POSTED 26 MARCH 2007 - 3:30am HST

Video gamers stand out in the operating room

image above: "Super Monkey Ball"  developed by Amusement Vision and distributed by Sega

Study says surgeons benefit from playing
by Alex L. Goldfayn on 26 March 2007 in The Chicago Tribune

Professor Douglas Gentile must have the coolest research lab in academia.

In Gentile's lab, video games rule. PCs and GameCubes and Xboxes comprise the equipment, and children--and adults--playing games like "Star Wars X-Wing Fighter" make up the subjects. Sometimes they get paid to play.

As the gamers play, Gentile observes.

Gentile is one of the country's top experts on the effects of video games on human behavior. Which means he knows how violent video games, for example, influence aggression in kids.

He also has a new report coming out this week on video-game addiction in children.

And, in a study that made international news, Gentile and his colleagues found that laparoscopic surgeons who played video games like "Super Monkey Ball" performed more accurate and faster surgeries than those who did not play the game. (Sadly, I actually had to ask Gentile if "Monkey Ball" was one word or two. He wasn't sure.)

Gentile looked at 33 laparoscopic surgeons, who perform minimally invasive procedures by inserting a camera and instruments into a patient through small incisions while looking at a television monitor.

"We gave them a survey that asked them about their current and previous video-game playing," Gentile recalled. "And then we had them play three video games and scored them."

The games were: "Star Wars Racer," "Silent Scope" and, of course, "Super Monkey Ball."

"Each of these three games had elements we thought x would be relevant in a surgical arena: precision targeting, two-handed choreography, non-dominant-hand dexterity, tracking and using three-dimensional information off of a two-dimensional screen," he explained.

Then, each surgeon was scored in a surgical simulation.
Guess what Gentile and his team found?

"The two biggest predictors of advanced surgical skill were how much surgeons had played video games in the past and how good they were playing video games currently," he said.

Video-game talent was a better predictor of surgical success than how many years of training each surgeon had or how many surgeries they had actually performed, he said.

In fact, the study found that surgeons who had played video games for three or more hours a week in the past were 27 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer errors than those who did not.

Still, Gentile warned that "this is not to say that video gamers are better surgeons. There's a lot of things that go into being a good surgeon, like bedside manner and decision-making. This is not how good they are as an overall surgeon. This is about their precision techniques."

However, video games may, and probably should, be used to train surgeons, Gentile said.

"Airline pilots spend so much time in simulators every year, and they practice crazy things like flying into hurricanes and flying upside," he said. "For surgeons, we can program 100 different bodies, the 50 most common complications and the 50 most common surgical errors into a video game and have them practice and get the high score.

"I think we could force every med student in the country to spend $400 on a PlayStation and the game. There are 80,000 deaths a year from medical errors. The cost of not doing this is high."

ow is this not happening yet?"I don't know," Gentile said. "As far as I can tell, the economics would support it. Have you bought a textbook recently?"
Gentile, 42, also has researched the negative side of video gaming, particularly in children.

For example, one of his projects looked at 430 grade-schoolers in Minnesota over a period of two years.

"Kids who were playing more violent video games early in the school year had actually changed to become more aggressive by the end of the school year as noticed by their peers and teachers," he said.

And a study on video-game addiction due out this week comes to this startling conclusion:

"We found that 8.5 percent of youth gamers between 8 and 18 years old would be classified as pathological gamers, which means your gaming addiction rises to a level of seriousness that it damages your life," he said.

This is not a small number. About 90 percent of all American children play video games, said Gentile.

"If 8.5 percent are having actual damage to their lives because of it," he said, "then we should do something about that."

Given all of his work in the area, Gentile often is asked if video games are good or bad.

"That's a stupid question," he said. "The same game can have positive effects and negative effects at the same time. If your kid is spending a lot of time playing `Grand Theft Auto,' the `lot' means that there may be lower school performance, and the violent content probably means increased aggressive attitudes and behaviors."

At the same time, Gentile said, "they probably have improved visual attention and hand-eye coordination."

see also
Island Breath: Synthetic Worlds

Island Breath: The Matrix Melds
Island Breath: Technology Menu
Island Breath: Fun & Games Menu