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See the good in video games
This one goes out to all the kids whose parents tell them to quit playing video games and do something meaningful, like memorizing an encyclopedia. The next time that happens, just say to mom or dad: "I'm trying to increase the spatial resolution of my vision, so would you get off my back? But first, bring me a Coke and some chocolate chip cookies, please." Or words to that effect.
Researchers at the University of Rochester published research recently suggesting that people who played video action games a few hours a day (what, that's all?) improved their ability to process certain visual information by 20 percent. They could read and interpret a standard eye chart a lot better than those who hadn't been playing video games.
The researchers hope to convert such findings into useful purposes such as help for individuals with amblyopia, or "lazy eye." It could be just one more example of suddenly converting to societal value a much-derided object, just as happened last year with Eddie Murphy in "Dreamgirls."
Seoul knows gamers' true worth
So maybe you're not impressed with any possibility your wonderful little game-brat's vision is going to benefit from his/her time in front of the Wii. Maybe you keep fighting them over it, and now they hate you more even than that stupid eighth-grade phys ed teacher who actually makes them exercise during gym class instead of sitting around. It's possible you should just let them develop their natural gifts and move the family to Korea to profit from it.
Across the Pacific they treat their best electronic game-players like rock idols or sports stars. They perform in arenas, competing in professional leagues with cable channels televising their moves. They get rich from endorsement deals. They'd probably bite off a bat's head on stage for kicks if their fingers weren't so busy manipulating their consoles.
The Los Angeles Times last week profiled Lim Yo-hwan, also known as The Emperor. He is the virtual Babe Ruth of gaming in South Korea, idolized as a young, handsome dude who has won more games of the futuristic battle game StarCraft than any of his countrymen.
The only complication for Mr. Lim is that right now he's in the middle of the 27-month military commitment required of all Korean men in their 20s. His military duty seems not so life-threatening, however. He's been participating in tournaments for an air force electronic gaming team, battling enemies in the form of corporate e-teams.
Virtually a surgeon
OK, so seeing your child as a Korean-style Elvis isn't exactly what you had in mind back on delivery day at the hospital some 12 to 16 years ago. Maybe you just had hopes of adding a doctor to the family. Well, then, whatever you do, don't cut into the video games!
A study, "The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century," published in the Archives of Surgery (if your subscription lapsed, check the February edition online) touted the benefit they provided for laparoscopic surgery skills. If the surgeons were accustomed to playing games in excess of three hours a week, they committed fewer errors and completed tasks faster in tests of their laparoscopic abilities.
The researchers didn't diagnose video game-playing surgeons as necessarily better than those who refrain, but they suggested that electronic games could be a training tool for those entering the field.
If you can't beat 'em...
The stories are popping up frequently now of how to put electronic games to use for good instead of evil. Dance Dance Revolution is in use in school gymnasiums in West Virginia and across the country as a fun way of persuading kids to exercise. DDR and other virtual games are also being adopted by libraries to draw kids into their space, where they eventually might even try something crazy -- like reading a book.
The Mon Valley YMCA installed a virtual reality gym last year. At a gym in Pleasanton, Calif., half the space is taken up by video exercise games, such as Jackie Chan Studio Fitness, in which players run down a virtual street and step on ninjas. But researchers trying to use interactive games to reduce obesity say they've run into the same problems as with every other form of exercise -- human beings get bored and quit.
"In the last four or five years, there's been a movement in the fitness industry to use technology to get kids off the couch. The concern is we don't have any research one way or the other that it is helpful," Stephen Sander, director of physical education at the University of South Florida, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The best worst thing for you
There are plenty of studies on the anti-gaming side that hint that sitting in front of a television or computer for hours, blowing imaginary people away, could somehow make our actual kids a little more violent. One who's not convinced, however, is Steven Johnson, author of the book with one of the all-time great titles: "Everything Bad Is Good for You."
"All these things that have long been assumed to be rotting our brains, there might be this hidden benefit," Mr. Johnson said. Of video games, he said, "You have to manage multiple objectives at the same time. You have to manage all these different resources, and you have to make decisions every second of the game."
In other words, video games are like life as, say, a jet pilot or NASCAR driver. Or assassin. And wouldn't we all be proud if our little ones ended up as one of those?
First Published March 26, 2007 12:00 am