Before He or She Cuts, Ask Your Surgeon: "Are you a Super Monkey Ball player?"

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Top ten med school, check. Board certification, check. Video game champ, check. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Doctors who reported having played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27% faster and made 37% fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared with those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study in the Archives of Surgery…

The research looked at 33 surgeons attending a course on laparoscopic surgery and found that their game-playing skill was a better predictor of success on the surgical tests than years of medical practice or number of surgeries performed.

Of course, the moral panic over video games continues and Congressoid Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) wants to do it for the kids.

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  1. Well, the view from a fiber-optic catheter camera passing through your lower intestine does resemble the second level of Caverns of Perdition…

  2. I wonder if the connection gets stronger if they play Trauma Center.

  3. Eh. Correlation does not imply causality. Perhaps people with good hand-eye coordination are drawn to video games – and to becoming surgeons.

    For example, I am not a video game player. I gave up after spending an afternoon (and $2) playing donkey Kong and failing to get past the second girder. Now if I tried to become a surgeon, I probably would be simillarly clumsy inside the bodies of my vict – er patients.

  4. Regardless of your positions on these issues, the idea that video game play can improve hand-eye coordination is a totally different issue from whether playing video games with violent themes leads to aggressive or anti-social behavior in some kids.

  5. “Well, the view from a fiber-optic catheter camera passing through your lower intestine does resemble the second level of Caverns of Perdition…”

    I wonder what Lemiwinks the gerbil thinks about this report.

  6. It seems more likely to me that video games are such a good predictor of skill because they would tend to be correlated with youth. I didn’t read the article because I didn’t want to sign up for an LA Times account, but did they control for this?

  7. Dan T.,

    I KNEW a baseless attack on my only appearance in a computer game would take prominance in this thread, but I never believed it would come from you 🙂

    The only bit that creeps me out on this story is the “27% faster” part. I am not one seeking speed when human hands are digging around my innards. I do like the accuracy part though.

  8. Dave B.-

    I didn’t RTFA, but the portion quoted says that video game experience was a better predictor of success than years of medical practice. Years of medical practice is closely related to age. Yeah, yeah, it isn’t perfect, there’s always the Doogie Howser who went to med school early and the guy who changed careers later in life and went to med school. These, however, are relatively rare exceptions. Most people start med school within a few years of finishing college.

    And given how long ago the Atari 2600 came out, this study would seem to encompass guys who played Pacman in their dorm rooms a couple decades ago, as well as young guys who just finished residency a few years ago and played Playstation on weekends.

  9. Eh. Correlation does not imply causality. Perhaps people with good hand-eye coordination are drawn to video games – and to becoming surgeons.

    Makes sense. But even if there’s no causality, if there’s correlation, then playing video games could be a good marker indicating good hand-eye coordination, and still worth knowing about — and even encouraging, as an information signal.

  10. Does this mean there’s a market for my Sim-hospital video game idea, Grand Theft Autoimmune?

  11. Dan T: I as explained here, teen violence reached the lowest levels ever recorded as sales of video games doubled.

  12. D.A. Ridgely wins the thread and goes to the double secret bonus mission.

  13. DAR: And Wolfenstein Medical Center. (It’s been a while since I played a videogame.)

  14. One more point to consider – note how easily Mr. Bailey is willing to buy into the idea that video game play can have beneficial effects, but he’s very quick to slap the idea that video games might have detrimental effects with the dismissive “moral panic” label.

    So video games are influential enough to effect people who play them, but somehow only in a positive way?

  15. Dan T: See also Dept of Justice juvenile violence trend figures here.

    D.A. Ridgely: I’ll play. 😉

  16. Dan T: I as explained here, teen violence reached the lowest levels ever recorded as sales of video games doubled.

    I actually remember that article when first published here and found it fairly persuasive. I’d much rather have kids who are attracted to violent acts performing them in the virtual world instead of the real world.

    But I think the jury is still out on the long-term effects of game play. Also, I harbor these strange ideas that video games are in actuality training tools for future soldiers – wasn’t it found that the Army had commissioned a game or something recently?

  17. Stevo, me too. But I figured Zork: The Intern of Frobozz General Hospital (“You are in a maze of twisting, antiseptic smelling corridors, all alike.”) might be a bit pass? for the younger crowd around here.

  18. Dan T: With regard to “moral panics,” I just call ’em as I see ’em.

  19. Dan T: With regard to “moral panics,” I just call ’em as I see ’em.

    Fair enough, but such dismissive terms will make people think you’re preaching to the converted.

  20. Guy says: “The only bit that creeps me out on this story is the “27% faster” part. I am not one seeking speed when human hands are digging around my innards.”

    I do think speed is important when you are talking about a surgeon. The faster it can be done the less risk of secondary complications, like excessive bleeding, infection, tolerance to the anesthesia, etc. Also it may be the difference between being able to treat 25 people a day or 20.

  21. “But I think the jury is still out on the long-term effects of game play.”

    As is the long-term effects of cowboys & indians. What your quote says is that there is no evidence suggesting that video games cause criminal violence. We agree on that.

    Also, there’s a big difference between a video game’s ability to sharpen skills and a video games alleged ability to warp the mind.

  22. I’d rather my surgeon played the piano.
    This would indicate good manual dexterity and not being a dork.

  23. This would indicate good manual dexterity and not being a dork.

    Unless you’re Marvin Hamlisch.

  24. I don’t find it terribly difficult to believe that people who show a proclivity toward one particular manual activity may also have greater skill in another task involving hand-eye coordination. I’m not by any means convinced that video games actually teach those skills, they may just be an indicator of people who possess such skills.

    Because I’m skeptical of the notion that video games can teach you manual skills, I’m also skeptical that video games can inculcate certain attitudes.

  25. As is the long-term effects of cowboys & indians. What your quote says is that there is no evidence suggesting that video games cause criminal violence. We agree on that.

    I think the closest I’ve seen is that studies have shown that playing violent video games often leads to short-term increases in aggressive behavior among players. This may not translate to criminal violence but that doesn’t mean it’s not an undesirable consequence.

    I guess like most things, moderation is the key with video games – even at age 33 I know guys who seem to be addicted to gaming to the point that it harms other areas of their lives.

  26. BTW, for any fan of House the findings of the research are obvious. There’s a guy who’s crippled, writhing in pain and popping Valiums all day, and when he’s not playing in his office with his GameBoy or insulting people, he’s saving some patient’s life by carving into him and he’s not even a surgeon! Need I say more?

  27. DanT (who is a smorgasbord of annoyance this morning):

    “Regardless of your positions on these issues, the idea that video game play can improve hand-eye coordination is a totally different issue from whether playing video games with violent themes leads to aggressive or anti-social behavior in some kids.”

    You’re right. The former idea has some pretty compelling evidence in support of it. The latter does not, and is a product of ignorance, fear, and the ever-present notion that the world is in a state of moral free-fall.

    “So video games are influential enough to effect people who play them, but somehow only in a positive way?”

    No-one has ever contended that games do not have influence. But there’s a difference between manual physical skills and moral guidance. Equating the two is a pretty weak argument.

    “But I think the jury is still out on the long-term effects of game play.”

    How long is ‘long-term’? We’ve got people running around now who’ve been playing computer games of one sort or another for 30+ years. I’ve been playing games since 1980 or so.

    Then again, I’ve been playing roleplaying games since I was 8 years old. It’s a wonder I don’t just snap and kill a whole schoolbus full of nuns. And orphans. And orphan nuns.

    “Also, I harbor these strange ideas that video games are in actuality training tools for future soldiers – wasn’t it found that the Army had commissioned a game or something recently?”

    ‘Found’? Like they did it in secret? This makes me believe you don’t play games, or know anything about the industry. In which case you should probably refrain from talking about it until you go acquire some basic knowledge.

    ‘America’s Army’ is a first person shooter commissioned by the Army as a recruiting tool. It’s… not very good.

    ‘Full Spectrum Warrior’ is a training tool comissioned by the Army to teach small-unit urban tactics. It’s very, very good.

    “I guess like most things, moderation is the key with video games – even at age 33 I know guys who seem to be addicted to gaming to the point that it harms other areas of their lives.”

    I didn’t have anything to say to this except maybe :rolleyes:, but then I thought about it. ‘Even at age 33.’ Your apparent surprise that you know people (presumably also in their 30s) who play games, even to excess, is the core of the issue I have with would-be nannies fucking around with my industry.

    See, games are for *everyone*. It’s been a very long time since the industry made games exclusively for children, or even mostly for children. The largest market for video games? It’s the 18 to 27 demographic. And even at age 32, I feel pretty confident that I’m still somewhere near that target market.

    The ‘for the children’ attitude is the same poison that the comics industry choked down just before it entered two decades of creative stagnation.

  28. Unless you’re Marvin Hamlisch

    Touch

  29. Also, I harbor these strange ideas that video games are in actuality training tools for future soldiers – wasn’t it found that the Army had commissioned a game or something recently?

    This is an old sci-fi staple. Anyway, simulated war is fun. The first game that came with my Atari 2600 ca. 1980 was Combat. A few years ago the Army took notice and came out with America’s Army. I played it a bit. It was a fairly feeble first person shooter with some light but dry infantry training type activities. I don’t really care that much if the Army is trying to train kids to be soldiers in this way. Their attempts will surely be ham-fisted, while Actavision et al. will draw the crowds with the same core theme. Boys and young men train for combat by playing at it. It’s our nature Dan; you know this. The new twist in all this is the Wii. More active, sports oriented, creative. And add my voice to the “vidya games make the kids violent”. The whole notion is DOA. Video games have become more pervasive and realistic while violent crime by their players has become less common.

  30. Also, I harbor these strange ideas that video games are in actuality training tools for future soldiers – wasn’t it found that the Army had commissioned a game or something recently?

    You’re thinking of the underappreciated LL Cool J film Toys.

  31. Dan T: One more point to consider – note how easily Mr. Bailey is willing to buy into the idea that video game play can have beneficial effects, but he’s very quick to slap the idea that video games might have detrimental effects with the dismissive “moral panic” label.

    Where, exactly, does Mr. Bailey claim that he buys into the idea that video games have beneficial effects?

    Oh yeah, he doesn’t. He just posted a snippet of a story and a few links.

  32. I think age matters here. There were days when video games were not so much about hand eye coordination.

    “If you cut there, you will be eaten by a grue.”

  33. Regardless of your positions on these issues, the idea that video game play can improve hand-eye coordination is a totally different issue from whether playing video games with violent themes leads to aggressive or anti-social behavior in some kids.

    I don’t want to register for the whole article either. But read the clip.

    The research looked at 33 surgeons attending a course on laparoscopic surgery and found that their game-playing skill was a better predictor of success…

    Nowhere does that say the games improved their surgical skills, just that they predicted the level of those skills.

    Dan T. What percent of professional videogame players have been arrested for violent crimes? How many times have you heard about two or more men in a barfight over a Grand Theft Auto game? How many times has a videogame tournament led to city-wide drunken revelry approaching the riot level?

    Seems like Congress should be a lot more worried about pro sports than videogames. But the pro sports image is that it teaches loyalty, personal effort, teamwork and various other virtues, so instead of banning football, basketball, et al, we make them a major part of our high school curriculum, and run college sports almost at the professional level.

    Isn’t it strange that almost all of our teenage multiple-murder/suicides take place in schools, precisely where all the usual suspects (videogames, guns, gangs, drugs, sex, pornography, ad nauseum) are banned?

    even at age 33 I know guys who seem to be addicted to gaming to the point that it harms other areas of their lives.

    And I know people even at age 33 that are addicted to food. It doesn’t mean that food has no benefits.

    The largest market for video games? It’s the 18 to 27 demographic. And even at age 32, I feel pretty confident that I’m still somewhere near that target market.

    I turn 60 in a couple of days, and my wife claims I’m still part of it.

  34. Larry A,

    Congratulations!
    We’ll get you a hat.

  35. Now, now Highnumber. You know the first question at Lion Tamer, Laparoscopic Surgery school is not “do you have your own hat…”

    (Happy Birthday, LarryA)

  36. Gotta love H&R – you guys protest way too much considering the worst I’ve done is say video games should be played in moderation.

    Relax, folks, I’m not calling for mandatory hangings of all video game producers and players.

    If anything, it might be best if young men are sedating themselves with games instead of going out causing trouble.

  37. Maybe we should add some sex education to our video games and see if there is an improvement in the porn industry.

  38. Dan T.,

    No, the worst you’ve done is to suggest that the repeatedly debunked link between video games and violence is still a viable point of contention. You did that in your first post.

    I don’t know the motivations of other posters are. But my motivations are simple: I work in this industry. And it chaps my ass to have to read, day after day, ill-informed pundits offering their ‘perspectives’ on my industry.

    If you don’t play games, you probably don’t have enough information to contribute to any discussion of the value of games. It’s akin to senators who believe the internet is made of PVC pipe offering their two cents. Well, except that those assholes can legislate; but enough of the ‘games = violence’ crap in the public meme-space, and I’ll be looking and stupid fucking legislation, too.

  39. Maybe we should add some sex education to our video games and see if there is an improvement in the porn industry.

    Wasn’t that the whole point of Leisure Suit Larry?

  40. http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-anderson.html

    Myth 1. Violent video game research has yielded very mixed results.

    Facts: Some studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a significant link to lung cancer. But when one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques, five separate effects emerge with considerable consistency. Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior. Average effect sizes for experimental studies (which help establish causality) and correlational studies (which allow examination of serious violent behavior) appear comparable (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

  41. Six years ago somebody found a correlation in some studies between violent video games and typical teenage male behavior?

    Color me shocked.

  42. Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior.

    I wonder which games they were testing? GTA? EverQuest? How can the multiplayer games which depend on forming groups to pool skills and resources decrease helping behavior?

    Wasn’t that the whole point of Leisure Suit Larry?

    Not really. LLL and its clones were written by computer gaming nerds who presumed that the goal of the typical player was playing the game, not getting to the good stuff. They thought making it harder to score was a feature, instead of a problem. It’s a nerd thing.

  43. Six years ago somebody found a correlation in some studies between violent video games and typical teenage male behavior?

    Color me shocked.

    Right, I’m sure the professionals who conducted the numerous studies didn’t consider using a control group or anything like that.

  44. “Also, I harbor these strange ideas that video games are in actuality training tools for future soldiers – wasn’t it found that the Army had commissioned a game or something recently?”

    After playing DOOM during my Jr. High and High School years, I attended a USPSA pistol match and scored with the Grand Masters.

  45. Shall … we … play … a … game?

  46. Dan T’s mantra:
    Please sir, may I have another?

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