Banana peels and flying turtle shells may not be realistic hazards on the road, but it turns out playing the video game “Mario Kart” really does prepare you for the real-world driver’s seat.
A study published this month in the journal Psychological Science found that some video games (like Nintendo’s famous go-kart racing game) can significantly sharpen visual motor skills. This coordination between incoming visual cues and muscle responses, called visuomotor control by the researchers, is essential for everyday tasks, including driving.
For their study, researchers from New York University Shanghai and University of Hong Kong had 80 students and faculty from the University of Hong Kong participate in several experiments involving different video games.
Action-based video games, for example, force the gamer to respond to visual cues. Think driving-centric games, like “Mario Kart,” or first-person shooter games, such as “Unreal Tournament.” Non-action games, on the other hand, include those like “Sims 2” and “Roller Coaster Tycoon,” where the gamer is responsible for directing the action.
In one experiment, subjects with no action-based video game experience were asked to played “Mario Kart” or a first-person shooter game. After 10 one-hour sessions, their visuomotor-control skills showed significant improvement.
By comparison, those that played non-action video games saw no improvement after the same amount of game time, leading researchers to argue that action-based games actually teach and enhance visuomotor-control skills over time.
“Playing an action video game for as little as 5 (hours) improves the precision and response amplitude of visuomotor control,” they wrote.
In another experiment, experienced gamers — those who played at least five hours of action-based video games a week — were better at controlling a virtual car in a driving simulation test than those who had little or no experience playing such video games.
This experiment, the researchers argue, shows action-based video games can be cost-effective, easily accessible training tools to help people become better drivers.
Even experienced drivers can benefit from a little virtual help. Only 14 of the 80 participants had a driver’s license, and being a licensed driver had no effect on the study’s outcome.
“We found that the improvement observed in participants who had driver licenses was similar to whose who did not,” Li Li, lead author, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
Surprisingly, experienced drivers may want to reach for their favorite first-person shooter games over the driving-centric ones.
First-person shooter games can help experienced drivers become better defensive drivers, the study argues, because they “require players to constantly make predictions about both where and when bullets will most likely hit.” This helps people predict “input error signals.”
Worried about the violent aspect? Don’t be, Li said.
“There is no solid research evidence supporting the claim that playing (first-person shooter games) leads to violence in real life,” Li said, citing an article from Scientific American that concludes that there is no causal relation between violent video games and the perpetuation of violent acts.
So yeah, maybe it’s time to break out some video games. For safety’s sake.