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Evaluating the Specificity of Effects of Video Game Training

KASEY L. POWERS AND PATRICIA J. BROOKS

Introduction

In recent years, claims have been made that video games make people smarter, for example, by improving their focus of attention, multitasking skills, spatial cognition, and general intelligence (Bavelier, 2012; Hurley, 2012; Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, & Shah, 2011; Zichermann, 2011). Video games require players to interact in complex environments, inducing a variety of information-processing demands, which potentially teach “the capacity to quickly learn to perform new tasks—a capability that has been dubbed ‘learning to learn’ ” (Bavelier, Green, Pouget, & Schrater, 2012, p. 392). In any modern video game, players have to navigate complex and potentially unfamiliar environments, determine the most effective ways to avoid enemies or hurdles, and make quick decisions (often under time pressure) while monitoring information in the periphery of the game where informative statistics are typically displayed. Given that skills develop within contexts of engagement, and that video games are a highly engaging, intrinsically motivating activity, task-relevant skills should improve with video game practice (Gee, 2007; Greenfield, 1984, 2009). However, a critical question for application of video games to professional training, education, or rehabilitation is the extent to which skills enhanced through video game play transfer to tasks outside of the game environment.

Recently, researchers have tested the use of commercial games designed for entertainment in the contexts of rehabilitation and cognitive training—that is, choosing video games that reinforce specific skills relevant to the domain of impaired functioning or the training area. For example, as a treatment for amblyopia, a developmental eye disorder that results in impaired vision, researchers have used Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (a first-person shooter game) to support perceptual learning, with adult amblyopic patients showing measurable gains in visual acuity and stereopsis following video game training (see Levi, 2012, for a review). A recent review of applications of video games to improve health-related outcomes reported therapeutic benefits of video game use, especially in contexts of psychological therapy and physical therapy (Primack et al., 2012), but cited concerns about poor study quality.

As early as the 1990s, the Israeli Air Force incorporated Space Fortress (an arcade game) into their flight training course after finding that flight skills improved after video game training (Gopher, Weil, & Bareket, 1994). Video game experience has been shown to enhance endoscopic and laparoscopic surgical skills (van Dongen, Verleisdonk, Schijven, & Broeders, 2011) as skill at video games such as Super Monkey Ball 2 (an arcade game), Star Wars Racer Revenge (a sport/ racing game), and Silent Scope (a first-person shooter game) was found to correlate with enhanced surgical performance (Rosser et al., 2007). Further, in a training study, usage of Half Life (a first-person shooter game) was found to improve surgical skills (Schlickum, Hedman, Enochsson, Kjellin, & Fellander-Tsai, 2009). Other studies, however, have failed to demonstrate benefits of video game training (Harper, Kaiser, Ebrahimi, Lambert, Hadley, & Baldwin, 2007; Rosenberg, Landsittel, & Averch, 2005), and others caution that some surgical skills may be more amenable to training than others (Kennedy, Boyle, Traynor, Walsh, & Hill, 2011). What remains unclear across studies is the relationship between the specific features of the video games used for training and the skills acquired.

 
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