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La plataforma permanente Atomium Culture reúne a las universidades, periódicos y empresas más prestigiosos de Europa para promover el flujo del conocimiento más allá de fronteras, entre sectores y hacia el público en general.

Playing Videogames: More Than a Waste of Time?

Por: | 17 de febrero de 2014

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By Tilo
Strobach, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Main-stream media often associates videogames with (potential, but not yet scientifically confirmed) emotional and social loss for the players, including increased violence and addiction, and gaming is considered a waste of time. The media, however, tends to ignore the potential positive effects of videogame experience on cognitive processing or rehabilitation. So to explore this thought, supervisor Torsten Schubert and I started a journey in our labs at Humboldt-University Berlin and Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich to explore the positive effects of videogames on cognitive processing.

We focused our study on the transfer effects of multitasking skills acquired in complex and fast-paced action games to real-world cognitive skills for managing fast-paced behavior in multitasking situations. We considered games that included several game-related tasks presented simultaneously or in rapid succession. To test our idea of the potential transfer of multitasking skills from action gaming, we invited videogame experts and persons with no experience with videogames. Both groups performed well-known situations in experimental psychology to test multitasking: dual-task and task-switching situations. Dual tasks test for performance in two simultaneous tasks, while task switching demonstrates cognitive flexibility to effectively switch between different tasks. The results clearly showed the advantage of videogame experts: they were faster in both dual-task and task-switching situations.

But can this result be considered as causal evidence of the positive effects of videogaming? Not yet — because the comparison between videogame experts and non-experts does not provide reliable indicators of the level of multitasking performance in the former group without gaming experience. One can argue that inherent multitasking skills make videogame players experts because these individuals are more successful in videogaming, and as a result, they are highly motivated to play for hours on end and eventually become experts because of their improved multitasking. Or was the improvement in multitasking a result of videogame experience? Which is the chicken, and which is the egg?

We devised a solution to understand this causality problem by paying university students to play an action game for 15 one-hour sessions within three to four weeks. Before and after practice, these students were tested in dual-task and task-switching situations. An identical procedure was followed with a control group that practiced the puzzle game Tetris. The performance of this group allowed us to test whether the transfer effects of multitasking skills were specific to action games. And indeed they were — while the “action game” and “puzzle” students showed similar performance before practice, the action game students were undoubtedly faster in the dual-task and task-switching situations after practice. In this way, our study showed that videogame experience, and in particular experience with action games, is causal for improvements in multitasking skills in situations outside the game context.

Along with a number of findings in the field of perception and attention, our findings suggest that playing videogames has positive outcomes. These findings contribute to the scientific community’s understanding and characterization of videogames as a cognitive enhancer of performance in multitasking situations. Furthermore, such results may influence the media’s relation to and perspective on videogames as a way to spend time.


Tilo Strobach
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

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