Don’t hate the player or the game

If I ever have to go get my gallbladder removed, I’ll be sure to ask my surgeon about his or her favorite video game.

Quynh Nguyen

Gamers. We’re pathetic, fat, socially inept and spend way too much time gaming in spite of how unhealthy it is. The guest column “Gaming for Health” published in the Daily on Feb. 26, 2007, gives one good poke in the eye to gamers: “We can only wonder what the next generation of video games will bring us, but we are hoping for a message of guilt.”

Maybe if those writers weren’t so busy criticizing gamers for our uber-1337 lifestyle, they’d know that the Nintendo Wii already has sporadic messages that urge players to get up and take a Wii break. While those writers are nagging gamers for looking pathetic “eating Cheetos for the last five hours,” we could argue that the partying scene is just as pathetic.

Gaming even has benefits in medicine. Researchers at the UC Davis Medical Center integrated an exercise program with a video game for teens with spina bifida, a neural tube defect disorder. These participants were physically impaired from playing in team sports and had limited means for exercise. This study, published in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, reports that seven of eight participants increased their maximum work capacity after training with the video game exercise program for 16 weeks. Quoting from the abstract, “The subjects in this study reported that the video game component was enjoyable and provided a motivation to exercise.”

Another study looked at the performance of surgeons and their gaming habits. Researchers at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York observed 33 surgeon residents and attending surgeons in laparoscopic skill and suturing ability, gaming skills and gaming habits. Laparoscopy, by the way, is a surgical technique where surgeons use little robot-like arms to get inside a body to perform internal surgery in a very tight space. One of the laparoscopic tests involved using teeny robot arms to run a needle through an eyelet mounted on the tops of little triangles in order to move them to a goal, using their nondominant hand.

What does this have to do with gaming? The surgeons who were current or former gamers outperformed their nongamer counterparts. The gamer surgeons were 39 percent faster, made 47 percent fewer errors and scored 41 percent better on the laparoscopy skills test. If I ever have to go get my gallbladder removed, I’ll be sure to ask my surgeon about his or her favorite video game .

The writer of the anti-gamer guest column listed two freak accidents involving gaming where people played games until they died and called them “many cited and potentially dangerous health issues.” Anyone with basic knowledge of statistics would know that two freak cases cannot be generalized to a population.

That writer did make a standing point about obesity and gaming. It doesn’t take much research to observe that children are spending less time outdoors and more time indoors than their parents did and that they are much fatter. Part of it is because video games, TV and the Internet are so gosh-darned fun. The other part is that our parents had a lot more safety and open space in their neighborhoods than we did. They did not have to grow up under the specter of kidnappings, big-box store sprawl or bad neighborhoods.

While games are becoming more physically interactive, gaming is not. University of California, San Francisco researchers found when they gave Playstation consoles and copies of Dance Dance Revolution to obese kids (result: it didn’t help). As adults today, we need to work to make the outdoors just as safe and inviting to children as they used to be.

Quynh Nguyen wecomes comments at [email protected]