Play games, be a better student     

Ján Štefančík

With technological discoveries paving the way for computer advancement, state-of-the-art components and parts are becoming cheaper every day. Computers have become more than just machines meant to help you with work and console developers (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, etc.)  have always prioritized entertainment.

Over the years some people have talked about video games in a manner that makes this hobby seem like something lousy. In some cases, when the media has connected video games with violent acts, it has even appeared as something abominable. Nonetheless, the video games industry has continued to grow for the last twenty years. Not only are games becoming better, in some cases they are more realistic, simulation-like. And it is the simulation of possible violence and other disturbances that has led to opinions which accuse and blame games for regrettable events.

Everyone has a different opinion, but studies have shown that games are not to blame. Plus the publishers realized the possible dangers early, and ESRB was founded in 1994. It is an association responsible for a ratings system which sorts games into age-appropriate categories.  You can find this information on the internet. But this is not the point of this article. We can go one step further with our research and try to find out by testing if video games can help people by boosting certain skills. There are people who have actually done this already. The two articles below will try to shed some light on two of the possible advantages of becoming a ‘gamer’.


Video games to improve eye-hand coordination

Eye-hand coordination is, to an extent, self-explanatory. It is communication and cooperation between visual perception and muscle movement, as in grasping or catching. It plays a part when we write, type and draw, and it is present in almost every action we perform during the day. The more we improve, the more we are able to learn and work in and with our surroundings. To a certain degree it even affects our perception of the world. (Laberge, 2006)

Now to our question: How can games actually help people with this skill? Research conducted by a team at Toronto University shows that people who play fast-paced games regularly adapt faster and use their eye-hand coordination more precisely. (Perry, 2014)

The researchers divided participants into two groups – one group comprising people who didn’t play games, the other people who played them at least three times a week. All participants were asked to track – on the screen of a computer – a square with a preprogrammed pattern to follow. At first no difference was shown. But the group of gamers was able to adapt and learn this pattern quicker than the non-gamers. This experiment showed that the group of gamers had an edge over the others in learning which required sensorimotor skills. During the second experiment the pattern of movement changed at random, and again, the results recorded by the group of gamers were better. We need to mention that at first both groups performed at the same level. But as the experiments went on, the gamers adapted and improved significantly more quickly. (Perry, 2014)

In conclusion, the study did not confirm the initial advantage of the gamers, but it did confirm their ability to improve their sensorimotor skills faster than those who do not play fast-paced games.

The method used in this experiment indicated that fast-paced games can improve the expertise of people in certain professions, for example surgeons working with an interface required for laparoscopic surgery.[1] This experiment was performed in 2007.

In total there were 33 participants (students and doctors). They had to fill in a questionnaire which focused on basic information about the participant and, of course, whether they had any experience of playing video games. The point of this experiment was to discover whether there was some relation between game controllers and the interface used for this particular surgery. (Rosser, 2007)

The participants were divided into three groups. The first group had almost zero experience when it came to gaming, the second played occasionally only, while the third consisted of people who regularly played for more than eight hours per week. The question presented in the study got its answer. Overall, the surgeons and potential surgeons who played games were faster and more precise (though we need to say that difference between the first two groups was minimal). The biggest difference was revealed when the first and third groups were compared (Rosser, 2007). The third group performed significantly better.

We can assume that there is a certain connection between playing fast-paced games and actual sensorimotor skills. These two experiments showed that even for students at university gaming may be more than just a way to relieve stress.



Video games to improve English as second language

Although I like learning the English language, it would be wrong to say I look forward to every lesson. I’m not very keen on ones that take place early in the morning or include a test. When it comes to games, my attitude is different. I can choose when I want to play and how much I want to play. I believe the same goes for other casual gamers. It is not just about the game itself; it’s also about communicating with other players and the friends we make during gaming. These friends might live in the same town, but they might be live in another country altogether. And English is one of the most common languages used to communicate with others who are not of the same nationality as we are. Some games are story-driven, relying on a player’s choices and his awareness of all that is happening. Sure you can play it without understanding everything, but it is much more enjoyable when you actually know what you are doing.

A study by Anna Vidlund focused on different games and gamers, and how gaming could improve use of the English language. This research was performed with players in their early twenties, all of whom played regularly – some just a few times per month, others every day for two or more hours (Vidlund, 14, 16, 18, 22). All of these games were either single-player/ multi-player, or multi-player only.  While certain games have their own range of vocabulary, players are exposed to English language spoken outside of the game they are playing, especially during online sessions (Vidlund, 23-24). Players need to communicate with each other about tactics and how to proceed with their game. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for them to speak about things happening in their lives outside of the game, thus causing them to use English spontaneously in social situations, not only as limited by the vocabulary presented by the game itself (Vidlund, 19-20). The players themselves confirmed that their level of English improved by playing games that forced them to learn the language if they wanted to play. Each of the participants in this study showed improvement at least in one category (e.g. listening, speaking) (Vidlund, 27-28).

I have not done any actual research on this, but since I am a gamer myself, I do know a lot of other people who play video games. I asked around and some said that their school grades have got better since they started playing. One of them plays tactical FPS[2], a game recommended by two of his professors as a possible way of improving his language skills. If they want to progress, or to win the game, they need to communicate and work together. All of these friends of mine are non-native speakers (19 people in total). To mention a few, some live in Sweden, some in Russia, some in Japan. Those from Asian countries in particular said that their EL improved mostly because of the online games they play. They told me it is a lot easier to meet people who speak fluent EL online than in their own countries. But again, this was not proper research, just asking around among friends.

Another possible approach is presented by Mr. Larry Ferlazzo, a high school teacher. He uses free online games which are widely available to anyone who has access to the internet.

These games are easy to come by and can be designed even by someone who is not a professional in gaming development (Ferlazzo, 2008). As described by Mr. Ferlazzo, such games are not difficult to grasp and have a clear goal. A person role-plays a character situated in a simple virtual story. He uses these online games for education of non-native speakers in a fun way (Ferlazzo, 2008). These games are easily accessible, and he can control what students play during the lesson, giving him an opportunity to filter unwanted features out of the games. Excessive violence and sexual content can be blocked, making the games suitable even for younger children (Ferlazzo, 2008).

The studies and methods presented show that video games do indeed have a positive effect on language-learning. The actual effect may vary from game to game but it is still one of the better ways to study English, since it is a voluntary one.

Resources/ literature:

Rosser, James C., Jr. “The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century.” JAMA Network. 2007. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.

Perry, Keith. “Fast-paced Video Games Improve Learning Ability, Study Shows.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.

Laberge, Monique, and “Hand-Eye Coordination.” Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2001. Hand-Eye Coordination.” HighBeam Research, 2006. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.

Ferlazzo, Larry. “Free Online Games Develop ESL Students’ Language Skills.” Http:// Tech&learning, 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.

Vidlund, Anna. English in Video and Online Computer Games – Potential Enhancement of Players’ Vocabulary. Växjö, Kalmar: Linnéuniversitetet, 4 June 2013. PDF.

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[2] FPS stands for “first-person shooter” (in this case)