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Cognitive Callisthenics: Do FPS computer games enhance the player’s cognitive abilities?

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It is widely accepted that educational video games are a valuable resource for learning. Action video games however, are often viewed as mindless entertainment, but research completed recently show other benefits are gained from video games, such as the enhancement of peripheral vision (University of Rochester, 2003). It has long been known that puzzle games such as Tetris enhance the player’s cognitive abilities. Okagaki and Frensch (1994) used Tetris in their research. They found that spatial visualisation abilities were improved in college students after six hours of playing. Research done by De Lisi and Cammarano (1996), showed that students improved their mental rotational skills playing a game called Block Out. Earlier research completed by Dorval and Pepin (1986) suggests that students with greater spatial visualisation abilities are generally high achievers and excel in subjects like maths and science. (Kearney, 2003b) Unfortunately today’s generation do not play Tetris or Block out. They are more captivated by action games, known as that First Person Shooter (FPS) games, like Counter Strike and Half-Life. In a survey of 25 computer game players, it was suggested that these games "not only enhanced hand-eye co-ordination, but also increased their ability to multi-task. A typical FPS involves controlling the player movement, aiming and firing the chosen weapon, evading being a target for other players, monitoring health status and ammunition supplies, and devising a seek and destroy strategy in order to complete the level. All this is done in unison, in a pressure situation." (Kearney, 2003b, p.6). This paper examines the potential of commercial action video games to be used as a tool to enhance specific cognitive abilities. Basic cognitive abilities like multitasking, hand-eye co-ordination, and increase attention span, are of value to those involved in working with, or those that have, learning or motor skill disabilities. The chosen design for this research was quasi-experimental design ("quasi" because it does not involve the random selection of participants to be observed). The experimental design is a repeated pretest-postest control-group design. Zikmund suggests that this method is "a true experimental design in which the experimental group is tested before and after exposure to the treatment, and the control group is tested at the same time without being exposed to the experimental treatment" (2003, p.277). The only limitation of this design is that the control group may realise what they are being tested for in the pretest, and modify their behavior in the posttest. However, the control group for this research was included to ascertain whether or not the repeated use of the measurement software has an affect on the recorded results. The participants were selected from members of the New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA) and split into three distinct groups:  Groups A: Action gamers (participants that play action video games on a regular basis – more than 4 hours per week)  Groups B: Non-action gamers (participants that do not play action video games on a regular basis – less than 4 hours per week or not at all).  Groups C: Control group – (participants that do not play action video games on a regular basis). The student chapter of the NZGDA meet on a regular basis to play multi-player action video games. These students are studying at tertiary level and typically between the age of 18 – 30 years old. Computerised assessment of cognitive functions is recognised as a highly effective data gathering and analysis tool that reduces human error during both testing and the management of the collected data (Kane, 1999). Based on an earlier DOS product, Syswin was "written in response to a perceived need for a laboratory performance testing situation intermediate between the test typical of Performance Assessment Batteries (PABs) and full-blown simulators" (Elsmore, 1994, p.1). The program displays four simultaneous tasks to the user, each in one quadrant of the screen where the operator is required to:  remember and classify items on demand (MEMORY (Sternberg) TASK)  perform a self-paced task (ARITHMETIC PROBLEMS)  monitor and react to visual information (VISUAL MONITORING)  monitor and react to auditory information (AUDITORY MONITORING) In addition to Synwin, a program called ImPACT (Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) was used. ImPACT was designed to evaluate multiple aspects of neurocognitive processes to assist with the diagnosis of concussive sporting injuries (Lovell, Collins, Maroon, Podell, & Powell, 2004). The ImPACT tests include:  Attention  Memory  Reaction time  Visual processing speed Although this product was specifically designed to test for a reduction in cognitive abilities after receiving a concussive injury, this tool has been used to record an increase in cognitive functions. Normative data is provided for ImPACT scores to assist with the analysis of test results. The findings of this research are of interest to the gaming industry, the general public, and educators, especially those working with special needs students. It will also spawn further research into which games have the ability to enhance cognitive functions. It is hoped that a framework of tests can be developed to enable commercial video games to be tested without the need to observe human participants with each and every game. References: De Lisi, R., & Cammarano, D. M. (1996). Computer experience and gender differences in undergraduate mental rotation performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 12, 351-361. Dorval M. & Pepin M. (1986). Effect of playing a video game on a measure of spatial visualization. Perceptual Motor Skills, 62, 159-162. [Electronic version] Elsmore, T. F. (1994). SYNWORK1: A PC–based tool for assessment of performance in a simulated work environment. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 26(4), 421–426. Kane, R. (1999). Computerized neuropsychological assessment: Overview & appraisal. Retrieved May 30th, 2004, from Kearney, P (2003a). Assignment 1 for ISCG 8022 : IT project planning, Unitec New Zealand Kearney, P (2003b). The impact of Computer Games on Children's aggressive behaviour and learning abilities. Bulletin of Information Technology Research. 1, (1), ISSN 1176-3108. Lovell, M., Collins, M., Maroon, J., Podell, K., & Powell, J. (2001). Scientific and psychometric basis of the ImPACT program. Retrieved April 11th, 2004, from Okagaki, L. & Frensch, P. A. (1994). Effects of video game playing on measures of spatial performance: Gender Effects in Late adolescence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 15. 33-58. University of Rochester. (2003). Altered perception: The science of video gaming. Retrieved 30 April, 2004, from Zikmund, W. G. (2003). Business Research Methods (7th ed. Vol. 1). Ohio: South-Western.
Contact: Paul Kearney, School of Computing and Information Technology, Unitec New Z,
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