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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
Gamers get into 'The Zone'
Virtua Fighter 4
Virtua Fighter 4 tests your fighting skills
Video games are often seen as the scourge of today's youth, but is there some benefit in digital game play? BBC World's ClickOnline did its own study, as Kate Russell reports.
What have a Buddhist Monk, a sports person exhibiting peak performance, and a computer gamer got in common?

Despite the fact that it sounds like the lead-up to a bad joke, the answer is actually alpha brainwave activity.

It's common knowledge, in scientific and sporting circles, that sports people performing at the very peak of their abilities can experience an increased level of this type of activity.

This phenomenon is usually only associated with a state of complete rest, such as during meditation.

But the world's top athletes strive to achieve the state associated with such brain wave activity, known as the Flow State, and sometimes referred to as entering "The Zone".

Deep concentration

"Flow State is an optimal psychological experience. It's when you're functioning on auto-pilot, when everything clicks into place and goes right," said Dr Costas Karageorghis, lecturer in sports psychology at Brunel University, UK.

Our experiment contrasts two totally different contexts in terms of Flow

Dr Costas Karageorghis, Brunel University
"It's a deeply pleasurable experience and it's something that's not very often experienced by people; rather it's something that often represents people's peak experiences in a particular area."

Recent research has suggested that it could be possible for a person immersed in a computer game to achieve the same level of meditative concentration.

ClickOnline went along to Brunel University in London to test out the theory with the help of their Sport Psychology Research Unit.

"Our experiment contrasts two totally different contexts in terms of Flow," said Dr Karageorghis.

"The first context is sporting, and we're going to compare that with computer gaming. People seem to be immersed in computer games, but are we getting the same sorts of psychological responses as we're getting with sport?"

"If athletes use computer games, maybe to relax, and they do get into Flow, and they learn what that experience is all about, it may be that there is something they can extract from that experience and put into the sporting context," he said.

Virtual games

The first test subject was Mo Imran Ramzan, who is one of the world's top Virtua Fighter players.

Mo Imran Ramzan and Dan Carter
Gamer vs sportsman: Who can get into The Zone?
No stranger to the pressures of intense concentration, he regularly competes at international levels.

The sporting subject was Dan Carter, an international athlete who competes regularly for the under 23s' team throwing the javelin.

First the subjects were asked to engage in their specialist area for a set period of time. It was an artificial environment for both our participants, who are much more familiar with the pressures of group competition rather than individual performance in front of a TV camera.

However, by comparing the experiences of our sports person, with what our gamer experiences during the test, we hoped to be able to establish whether or not it is likely that our gamer is achieving that same state of concentration.

Next we administered a self-report analysis questionnaire known as Flow State scale version II, to both our subjects.

This established method of scientific analysis is at the cutting edge of research practices, and aims to assess nine specific factors associated with Flow State.

Superior performance

"Collectively Mo scores an average of 17 and we're looking for an average of 16 or above to attain Flow State, whereas Dan scored 17.44," said Dr Karageorghis.

"So they both experienced Flow to some extent.

"If we can learn to manipulate these factors, to engage athletes in their activity to an extent at which they are feeling optimal, it's more likely that they will attain superior performance."

Obviously there is more research to be done to validate the findings, but if initial indications are correct, there could suddenly be a lot more interest in computer gaming both as a science and as a sport.

ClickOnline is broadcast on BBC World at various times across the globe.

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