Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?.

Are we getting better in life if we improve ourselves in games? Through more research, we have examined how useful the time spent with video games is in reality.

How can we say we are good in an action game? Does it really only matter how accurately we can target how masterful those particular flick shots are? And how will we be better in our daily lives if we improve ourselves in action games? While we are hearing more and more about the positive side of the world of video games, there are plenty of issues that are still unclear. Numerous recent studies on the skill-developing effect of games have been published by American researchers Walter R. Boot, Daniel P. Blakely, and Daniel J. Simons (Do action video games improve perception and cognition? 2011, Frontiers in psychology). These researches have shed light on two things: on the one hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that learning by playing is a truly existing phenomenon, and on the other hand, we are enriched with a number of skills that can be useful in our daily lives.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

What do a good player and a good driver have in common?

Psychologically, one of the similarities is that it is very important for both of them to process what they see. To learn about this, the concept of “useful field of view” was introduced in psychology. A useful field of view is the area from which we can pick up information in a matter of moments without moving our head or eyes.

Researchers have questioned whether it is possible to achieve progress by playing action games. Participants in the research were first measured by how well they performed on a test designed to measure a useful field of view. After that, they had to play a given video game with a set regularity. One half of the players played Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, while the other half received Tetris. As a result of the research, it was found that not only did the players get better and better in the game, but the members of the action player group were able to process the information that came into their view more accurately than their peers playing Tetris. The game has taught them that an enemy unit can advance from anywhere, so pay close attention to their surroundings. And that skill comes in handy when someone needs to identify a suddenly advancing pedestrian as a driver.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

Ability to mentally rotate

In our everyday lives, we come across a lot of different objects that we see in almost every case from a different angle, yet we don’t think of them as being different things. This is because we are not only able to display these objects in a mental space (i.e., imagine them), but also, for example, to rotate them, which helps us to recognize them in the same way in other situations. This skill is of great importance in many areas of our lives, from assembling simple furniture to more serious engineering work to performing life-saving surgeries. Researchers have also examined the development of this skill. One group of participants was asked to play Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, while the other group had to play a skill-logic game called Ballance.

Just ten hours of play was enough to achieve a significant improvement in mental filming skills in the action player group, while this development did not appear in the other group.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

All of this is understandable when you think about the importance of a good assessment of the terrain around us in a battle. The more accurately we do this, the better we can determine the location of the incoming enemies, and all of this can help us choose the cover.

How much is that?

Although everyone in the lower grades of primary school learns basic mathematical operations, it is possible to quantify something spontaneously without counting, provided it does not consist of too many elements (say no more than ten elements). In English, this skill is “subitizing”, which in Hungarian is roughly an estimate. To answer the question of whether this could be improved with video games, the researchers again chose Allied Assault. As in the previous research, there were enough ten hours of play here to make a difference for the participants.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

Those in the group of action players were able to determine the number of more items with greater accuracy, and they seemed to have to move from estimation to counting strategy for a larger number of items.

In the middle of an exciting match, we don’t really have time to count, we have to act. This situation favors players who are able to accurately assess the situation even in such a situation. If, say, we can recognize at the right time that our opponents are outnumbering us, a well-timed retreat could even be the key to victory.

I didn’t even notice that I didn’t even notice

If we get only one task at a time, we can easily pay attention to its execution. However, if we have to pay attention to two things at once in a short time, the phenomenon of attention blindness can occur. Researchers observed this phenomenon when participants were asked to try to determine a differently colored letter from several letters that flashed within a short time, while also looking at whether a predetermined letter appears in the series. In the event that the first letter is soon followed by the second, it is simply overlooked. As in previous cases, the possibility of the developmental effect of action games has arisen in researchers. To test this, some of the subjects had to play Allied Assault again, while the other group perfected their skills in Tetris.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

As a result, again, the action player group proved to be more adept, they were more able to resist attention blindness, and they also noticed the second stimulus more often than their Tetrisen practicing counterparts.

Just think about it, if we are very distracted by a goal, say the liquidation of an enemy unit, we can easily ignore another goal that is present in parallel, say a point.

Shared attention

Researchers also use a different procedure to examine attention split. We talk about multiple object tracking skills when we need to monitor several pre-marked elements while other elements with the same look and movement are present. To investigate this, 16-16 participants were asked to play pre-designated games for a total of thirty hours. One group played the Unreal Tournament in 2004, while the other group received the Tetris again.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

The action player group once again outperformed the other group, they were able to monitor more items in parallel than the members of the group playing Tetris.

Undoubtedly, our K / D ratio will be the best if, in addition to the targeted opponent, we are able to monitor to some extent the other opponents rushing at us and the grenade and projectile floods rushing at us from several directions.

Are action games the gyms of the brain?

Games can provide us with not only pleasant relaxation but also “mental dexterity” if we invest enough (but certainly not excessive) time and energy in them and don’t shy away from the initial difficulties. In the next article, I present further research that will help make you even more aware of what mental skills we use when playing action games and what practical benefits a player can spend on doing so.

The article was written for Patrik Koncz, who completed his psychological studies at PPKE and ELTE. During his master’s degree, he chose a specialization in clinical and health psychology, and during his studies he took part in a psychological research survey of players’ mental health, which also helped him get acquainted with the scientific side of the world of video games.

Action games and mental training – are you evolving too, or are you just your characters?

Extra Life is a social responsibility column on SamaGame that aims to help young people and parents work with professionals to talk about issues that may affect you.