As I have mentioned before, I am currently learning to drive. Recently I had to perform a three-point turn for the first time, and after completing the manoeuvre my instructor asked if I had been practising, as I had executed it so well.
I had actually never attempted a three-point turn before – at least not in real life. On the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City however, I’ve had lots of practice whilst trying to avoid being caught by virtual police. Of course I’m not suggesting that a gamepad is any replacement for a steering wheel, but what the game had taught me was how to visualise the way a car must move during a three-point turn – something my instructor said many new drivers struggle with.
It seems that the American Psychological Association are inclined to agree with me. Research discussed at the APA’s Annual convention found that some video games “can have beneficial effects, improving gamers’ dexterity as well as their ability to problem-solve”. A study of surgeons found that gamers could perform advanced surgical procedures 27 percent faster and with 37 percent fewer errors. It seems that advanced gaming skills is a significant predictor of surgical ability. Conducting the research was psychologist Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, who said:
“The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects, including the amount they are played, the content of each game, what you have to pay attention to on the screen, and how you control the motions. This means that games are not ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could.”
A study of young children also found that players of violent games became more hostile, less forgiving and believed violence to be normal behaviour, compared with players of more subdued games. I’ll have to admit my bias here, and merely point out researchers at Harvard have found the complete opposite. The question of the effect of video games on behaviour is still open for debate. Now, excuse me whilst I return to GTA to practice my three-point turns.