Take note gamers: researchers are arguing that action titles like Call of Duty are just as good if not better for your brain than so-called "brain games"—if you play them within reasonable limits.
In a study published today in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the researchers argue that in some cases action games—as well as other game genres—can have a better impact on cognitive function than "brain games" made for that explicit purpose. In light of this, they state that policymakers need to make more balanced decisions when drafting policies around the consumption of certain types of video games.
"The essential take-home message [in this paper] is that there is a lot of research that demonstrates that both action and brain training video games do influence cognitive processes," Aaron Seitz, paper co-author and a psychology professor at the University of California, told me.
"The key thing is instead of just saying video games are bad, and restricting the time we play them, we need to look at both the benefits and disadvantages of video games, and make better-informed policy recommendations," he added.
In their paper, the researchers refer to a Supreme Court case from 2011 that debated whether more "graphically violent" video games presented enough of a threat to a child's social-psychological development to "warrant state-mandated restrictions on their sale."
Seitz, however, argues that research shows a certain amount of these games such as Grand Theft Auto V and Wolfenstein: The New Order, as well as games from other genres such StarCraft, Portal 2, and Rise of Nations, could be beneficial in improving attention, basic perception, and decision making.
"It's clear that if you're spending up to ten hours playing these video games, then you're at a cost. But there is research that shows that if you take an hour a day to play these that you do see specific cognitive benefits," said Seitz. "These games provide challenges: You have to respond to very subtle stimuli that are presented across the visual field very quickly. You need to do a bunch of different things at the same time—in essence, it's a workout for certain brain systems."
"Training laparoscopic surgeons to play video games also helps them with the surgery."
The brain workout provided by action video games is also advantageous for people in professions that require nifty hand control.
"If you have laparoscopic (minimally invasive surgery) surgeons play video games, and if they play them well, it's been shown that that's actually a better predictor of their suturing performance than years of training. Training laparoscopic surgeons to play video games also helps them with the surgery," said Seitz.
Laparoscopic surgeons have to look at a screen when they perform tasks, and Seitz argued that this was similar to a gaming scenario, where someone looked at a screen while their hands manoeuvred a set of controllers.
Ultimately, the researchers argue that video games are like food, where each type of game has a different effect on the body when it comes in different quantities. Seitz said that what everyone from researchers, parents, gamers, and policymakers needed to understand was the "dosages" that people were playing certain types of games in.
"It's necessary to really get scientists who are part of the policy process to look at what the benefits of gaming are, and how society can reap these benefits, instead of just assuming just because one characteristic of a game is offensive that there is no game to be had," he said.