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Next: Conclusions Up: The Games We Play Previous: Literature Review

Results and Evaluation

The main experiments that support our thesis are covered in Green & Bavelier [8], Antonietti[5], and Blumberg[6]. Green & Bavelier performed four tests: two that measures attention resources, one that measures attention over space, and one that measures attention over time. Antonietti performed one test that compared the subject's performance on a board game and it's computer counterpart, and Blumberg also performed one test that sought to determine how adept video gamers think.

The first test by Green and Bavelier uses the flanker compatibility effect to determine the attentional resources of gamers (video game players) and non-gamers (non video game players). According to their paper, this effect causes us to easily be distracted (distractor effect) by irrelevant stimuli when performing a task where we have visual processing to spare. In other words, as the difficulty of the task increases, the visual processing resources that we can spare decreases, and our performance on the task increases because of less distraction. It is remarkably counterintuitive, and furthermore, it showed that the distractor effect is more prevalent with gamers showing that they possess greater visual processing resources.

The second test by the two involved flashing an image containing squares for a brief period of time, and then requiring the participants to count them.

``The number of items that can be subitized gives an estimate of the number of items that can be attended at once'' [8]
As expected, the gamers performed better, attending to an average of 4.9 items versus the 3.3 that non-gamers could handle.[8]

The third test was designed to eliminate spatial orientation of the stimuli as a variable. Reasoning that perhaps higher performance by gamers is constrained to the viewing field normally used in playing computer games, they tested the subjects ability to locate a target among distractors within the visual field for games, at the border of said visual field, and well outside the visual field for games. Their data shows that the improved performance of video game players is not localized to one area of the visual field and is in fact improved all over.

The last test performed was to determine whether gamers performed better than their peers with a temporal task that tests how quickly stimuli can be processed in time. They used the attentional blink task which involves subjecting the subject to two discrete stimulis in rapid succession to determine how far apart they must be in time before they can be identified as separate. Again, video gamers performed better than the non-gamers.

These four tests were performed on a group of gamers and non-gamers to yield these results, and then they were performed again on two groups of non-gamers who were allowed to practice games, one hour per day, for ten days. A control group played a game that, in theory, would not enhance visual attention skills: Tetris. The other group played attentionally demanding Medal of Honor. As expected, those who played Medal of Honor had improved attentional capabilities across the board compared to those who played Tetris.

Antonietti tested the general performance of those who played a computer version of a game named Pegopolis with the performance of those who played the corresponding non-computer version. The test subjects were a uniformly distribute, albeit college level, group who had never played the game before. These subjects were broken down into two groups: half played two trials of the board game before doing two trials of the computer version, and the other half did the reverse. The subject's duration of play, comments on strategy, and intelligence were checked after they performed the trial.

``No significant difference emerged in the scores computed separately for each trial and those computed by summing the scores, respectively, in the two real and in the two virtual trials. Analyses revealed that general intelligence levels were not significantly different in [...] video game players and nonplayers.'' [5]
In short, according to Antonietti's analysis, there are no statistically significant differences in playing the game on the computer or on the board.

Blumberg tested 114 schoolchildren to determine how gamers think compared to non-gamers. Each participant was allowed 10 minutes to play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 after which they were asked a series of questions:

  1. What were you thinking about as you were playing the game?
  2. Suppose you were going to tell someone else who has never played the game before how to play it. Are there any special secrets or rules that you would tell them about?
  3. Is there anything you would pay attention to?
(Taken from [6])

The student's responses were then recorded and categorized as goal oriented, strategy-based, game-oriented, and evaluative comments. Analysis found that there was a significant difference between gamers and non-gamers in strategy responses to question #3. Namely, gamers were more likely to give comments about where to focus attention.

Neuroscientists have also investigated claims about video games, and state that playing video games leads to

``striatal dopamine release increase [...] and that the correlation between dopamine release and performance level was significant. Dopaminergic neurotransmission is probably related to learning, reinforcement behavior, attention, and sensorimotor integration.'' [15]
Essentially, playing video games has a real, measurable effect on a neurochemical that is related to attention.

Do these results support the hypothesis? For the most part, the results do support the hypothesis. Although Antonietti's study provides a dissenting view that the computer aspect of the game does not affect performance, it must be pointed out that his study was fairly short term, involving only two computer trials. Furthermore, it should be noted that the game chosen was not one that showcased the computer's ability to tax attention, a deficit noted by Antonietti himself. The other two studies were focused on testing attention and eliminating most other variables, and they show a broad range of increased attentional capabilities from faster processing to a greater attentional capacity, to a greater ability to strategize the allocation of attention. In fact, none of the studies we have read through, with the possible exception of Antonietti's, appears to contradict these findings. It is therefore reasonable to say that our hypothesis is true and is supported by credible, peer-reviewed research.

The lack of any research to the contrary is somewhat heartening, but also fairly troubling. The one sided support for our thesis may be an indication that the state of research in video games has not matured to the point where a serious analysis of video games and attention can be made. Perhaps what is needed is for the subject to be tackled by people biased against video games who will work to find any inconsistency in the established studies that favor games. Such efforts would, of course, be required to be reproducible so that the bias of the researchers does not translate into bias in the experiment. One area that can be explored this way is whether this increased attentional abilities come at a cost. Can we really get improved attentional capabilities at the cost of playing video games, or is there another trade off involved? Do other cognitive processes decay in ability as attention improves? These are questions that demand an answer.

next up previous
Next: Conclusions Up: The Games We Play Previous: Literature Review
Paul Ingemi 2003-10-14