A new study shows that playing 20 minutes of Resident Evil makes you a better marksman. Photo by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Anytime someone defends video games, or discusses the benefits they provide, often the first words out of their mouth will be, “hand-eye coordination!”
It’s said so often that it’s almost a joke at this point. But it also has real-world applications. For example, small studies have found that gaming can improve surgeons’ dexterity.
In some ways, it seems like a “duh” moment to reveal that video games improve players’ real-life shooting accuracy. After all, didn’t Anders Breivik claim that Modern Warfare helped him train for his Norway attacks?
Scientists already know that playing video games — like learning any other skill — changes brains. At Ohio State University, Brad Bushman and Jodi Whitaker showed one way brains do change after gaming.
They had 151 students played 20 minutes of a video game:
1. Resident Evil 4, some with a gun-shaped controller and some with a regular controller
2. A target-practice game (in Wii Play) with bullseye targets, some with a gun-shaped controller and some with a regular controller
3. Super Mario Galaxy, which involves no shooting.
Then they took the students out for target practice with black airsoft training pistols.
Students who played Resident Evil using the pistol controller had the most head shots, an average of 7. They also made more body shots, an average of 6.
Students who played Super Mario Galaxy had the fewest head shots — about 2 — and the fewest body shots — 4, on average.
Students who played Resident Evil with a standard controller were somewhere in between the pistol players and the SMG players.
The participants who played the most video games outside the study, particularly those who played violent shooting games, had the best marksmanship of all.
“The more frequently one plays violent shooting games, the more accurately one fires a realistic gun and aims for the head, although we can’t tell from this study which factor is the cause,” Bushman said.
Of course, what the researchers should have done is have the students shoot first, then play the games, then shoot a second time to see if their marksmanship improved. Not having that baseline data leaves out some important information.
I’d like to think that most people wouldn’t view the ability to shoot accurately as a bad thing. It’s a skill, like anything else. In and of itself, it’s not a problem.
Unfortunately, Bushman thinks it is:
“We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss violent video games as just harmless fun in a fantasy world — they can have real-world effects,” he said. “This study suggests these games can teach people to shoot more accurately and aim at the head.”
Bushman seems to be missing some steps. Playing a video game doesn’t give you access to a gun. It doesn’t load the gun for you. And, most important, it doesn’t make you want to shoot anybody. If this study is accurate, the most it’s saying is that games could make you a better shot if those other things happened.
Gamers are going to learn plenty of skills in any video game that they’ll likely never use in reality. For example, Resident Evil 4 might also teach players how to run away from zombies, hunt birds in a forest, explore abandoned houses, and use grenades.
Even if Breivik “trained” by playing a video game, the most that game could have given him was better accuracy. It didn’t give him the paranoia or mental illness that propelled him to make bombs or shoot people in the first place. That didn’t come from Modern Warfare. That came from somewhere inside Breivik. And no video-game study can tell us how to find that.