Study: Gaming improves motor skills

University psychologists have done studies on gaming and learning.

Devin Henry

While most “Halo 3” gamers are focused on “finishing the fight,” studies conducted by University psychologists have shown that playing video games can also improve a player’s motor skills.

Assistant professor of psychology and computer science Paul Schrater said he has been interested in perceptual motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination, for over a decade.

Schrater said a video game’s virtual environment can help players improve these skills, and not just those needed to beat the game.

“This is one of the interesting things that seem to be true,” he said. “The excitement and fun that we see in action video games engages learning in a way that other things don’t.”

Practicing certain skills will improve them, Schrater said. The excitement of playing an action game helps this more than many other activities.

In his studies, Schrater found that violent video games actually work better to improve motor skills than nonviolent games, like Tetris.

“There’s something a little bit mysterious about that,” he said.

Schrater said while people can learn in boring ways, it could take them thousands of times to show a significant improvement in whatever they are learning. When people do things they find fun, like video games, the process is sped up.

“If the only thing you do is shoot free throws over and over again, it stops being fun, and you stop learning,” Schrater said. “There is a deep relationship between things that are challenging and things that are fun.”

This research could lead to more advancement in perceptual motor skill training, Schrater said. Once the secret to faster perceptual learning is identified, it could help train surgeons and pilots more quickly, Schrater said.

Former University student Dan Matzen said he’s been playing video games since he was 5 years old, and that he’s been playing “Halo 3” a lot since buying it last week.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve beaten the game already, and I’ve been playing online too.”

Matzen said he doesn’t focus on health issues while playing video games, but he can see how improved motor skills could be a possible side effect.

“A lot of hand-eye coordination, that’s for sure,” he said. “Tactical thinking, too, depending on what types of games you are playing.”

Matzen said he wishes he could play the game more than he currently can.

“If I had the time, I would be playing it every day,” he said.

The playing time needed to increase motor skills through video games is substantial – five hours a week for six months, Schrater said

“The benefits are real and significant but they are not coming for free,” he said. “People are making a significant investment of time to acquire them.”

Dr. Suck Won Kim, a professor of psychiatry, said video game addiction can be a dangerous problem for gamers, especially those who start playing early in their childhood.

“Many addictions start before age 10, and most before age 20,” he said. “Real addicts start to show their color very early in life.”

Kim has treated many patients with addictions to video games, he said, including one person who was playing nearly 18 hours a day.

“It was a huge problem for him and his family,” Kim said. “These people cannot stop. They literally get addicted to it. It is a huge problem.”

Schrater said while video games can improve motor skills, most people are better served spending their time doing other things.

“All sorts of games are fun,” Schrater said, “but any game that you spend all of your time playing is not going to be a good thing anymore.”