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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Video games 'good for you'
Keen video gamers now have one more excuse to keep on playing.

Teenager playing console game, BBC
Parents may not welcome the research
US scientists have found that regular players of shoot-em-ups, such as Half-Life and Medal of Honour, have much better visual skills than most of the population.

The researchers have shown that gamers were particularly good at spotting details in busy, confusing scenes and could cope with more distractions than average.

The two scientists also found that with a little game playing the visual skills of anyone can be improved.

Sight skills

Researchers Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier pitted keen players of computer games against people who never play in a series of psychological tests that measure basic visual skills.

The tests demanded that subjects match shapes appearing in a series of circles with ones displayed at the side of the screen.

Screenshot from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Rockstar Games
Although video game playing may seem to be rather mindless, it is capable of radically altering visual attentional processing
Daphne Bavelier and Shawn Green
Keen players were vastly better at this task, and completed it much faster, especially when the test was made more difficult by the circles being filled with distracting shapes.

Gamers also showed their skill in another experiment that measured "attentional blink" which captures how easy it is to catch someone's attention.

The test asks subjects to identify a symbol flashed up very soon after the appearance of a first one.

The second symbol appeared between two-tenths and half a second after the first symbol.

Gamers managed to correctly identify the second symbol correctly far faster than non-players.

"Video game playing enhances the capacity of visual attention and its spatial distribution," wrote the researchers in a paper published in the journal Nature this week.

Training day

To ensure that it was experience with computer games that was refining visual and attentional skills, the researchers trained subjects on a variety of games and then tested them again.

Screengrab from Crazy Taxi, Sega
Crazy Taxi was a favourite of the gamers tested
The subjects were trained on two different games. One group played the WWII shooter Medal of Honor and the second group got to play the classic puzzle game Tetris.

After training for an hour per day for 10 days, the subjects were put through the tests again.

The players who had been wrestling with Medal of Honor showed a significant improvement in visual and attentional skills. By contrast, the Tetris veterans showed almost no change in these skills.

"By forcing players to simultaneously juggle a number of varied tasks, action video game playing pushes the limits of three rather different aspects of visual attention," wrote the researchers.

The added: "Although video game playing may seem to be rather mindless, it is capable of radically altering visual attentional processing."

The study was commissioned by the US Government's National Institute of Health.

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"Gamers have now heard the news that they were waiting for"

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