Mario-Kart-DS

Nintendo launched the popular Mario Kart series in the early 1990s.

Whatever you may think of video games, a new study finds that playing them for as little as five hours can help you improve skills you need for driving.

The games in the study, published recently in the journal Psychological Science, were simulated driving games, Danny Gallagher reported for Gizmag.

Driving Skills

Lead researcher Li Li, of New York University Shanghai, said:

Our research shows that playing easily accessible action video games for as little as 5 hours can be a cost-effective tool to help people improve essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving.

The Free Dictionary defines “visuomotor control” as: “Denoting the ability to synchronize visual information with physical movement, for example, driving a car or playing a video game of skill.”

An article about the study on the Association for Psychological Science website says that although previous studies have shown that playing certain types of video games helps a person with specific visual abilities — like visuospatial attention and sensitivity to contrast — there had not been much research into whether playing video games gives people better visuomotor control. This new study, by Li and co-authors Rongrong Chen and Jing Chen, both of The University of Hong Kong, examined the possibility of such a connection.

Testing ‘Driving’ Abilities

To conduct the study, the research team compared the visuomotor abilities of people with at least six months of experience playing action video games at least five hours a week and participants who had no real video game experience.

The participants were shown a simulated road with lane markers and were given the task of steering a virtual vehicle down the lane while straying as little as possible from the center, despite crosswinds that affected the car’s direction. In this task, the participants with the prior video game experience did better than the newbies.

The researchers found similar results when giving the two types of participants a visuomotor control task that entailed using a joystick to prevent a floating dot from leaving the center of the video screen.

Training Sessions

Participants with no experience playing action video games were randomly placed into one of two groups to see whether playing the games might boost their visuomotor control skills. One group was trained in the video action game Mario Kart, using a steering wheel controller to drive a go-cart on a track. The other group was trained with the video game Roller Coaster Tycoon III, using a mouse and keyboard to create and maintain amusement parks.

There were 10 hour-long training sessions. After only five hours, those playing Mario Kart showed improved visuomotor control skills, and even more improvement after all 10. On the other hand, those playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, “a non-action strategy game,” displayed no improvement.

Not Just Driving Games

Interestingly, participants playing a non-driving action game, “Unreal Tournament,” a first-person-shooter game, experienced the same increase in skills as those who played Mario Kart. The study found that the two types of action video games had different beneficial effects on visuomotor control skills depending on whether the participants had previous video game playing experience or not.

It remains to be seen whether increasing visuomotor skills with video game training has any effect on real-world driving, for instance, lessening the chance of car accidents.