Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What is Your Favorite Game?

Are you thinking of a way to enhance your Air Traffic Control (ATC) skills? Investing in an action video game is certainly a good option. 2 studies, almost a decade apart, reveal that action video games enhance our visual skills, our hand-eye coordination skills and our concentration abilities.

In 2002, a group of researchers at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, New York, carried out 5 experiments on 2 groups of subjects. 1 group was the control group who did not play video games for 6 months. The second group played video games for at least 1 hour per day for a minimum of 4 days per week for 6 months. They played video games such as: Grand Theft Auto 3, Spider-Man, 007 and Super Mario Cart. 
The first 4 experiments showed that video-game playing increases the attention capacity and resources of the visual system. The experiments also supported the claims that our visual perception is enhanced spatially (which means increased spatial distribution or wider visual range) and temporally (which means better temporal resolution or less time to resolve conflicts). 

In the first experiment, the subjects were given the Flanker compatibility test which involved identifying geometric shapes in circles while they were supposed to ignore a distract shape that was either compatible or incompatible with the target shapes. Then they were given some pictures and were asked to guess the number of squares. This was repeated over expanding visual ranges. In the fourth experiment, they were given a rapid series of black and white letters interspersed with blank cards. They had to identify the black “X” after a white letter appeared.  
To confirm the findings, a fifth experiment was conducted using 2 groups of non-video  gamers. Both groups trained by playing 1 hour per day for 10 consecutive days. One group trained by intensively playing Medal of Honor, an action video-game from Electronic Arts requiring a superior level of combative skill while the second group trained with Tetris. The researchers compared the players’ performance in the above experiments before and after the training. They found that performance was enhanced in both groups with the performance of the players who trained on the action video game being better than the players who trained on the non-action video game. 

Action video-games can be beneficial to our visual, attention and perception skills

9 years later, Professor Daphne Bevalier of the University of Geneva set up a lab to study the effects of action gaming on the brain. Like the first set of experiments, she observed that action gamers have better attention spans and are less prone to distraction. They concentrate better, increase their perception for the finer detail even in clutter and can multitask relatively easy with technology. What does this mean for Air Traffic controllers (ATCOs)? How can action video games help?

If a cluttered radarscope is unnerving; or if you have problems reading the fine print on the screen; or you think that the resolution is too dark; or you feel some degree of uneasiness with several potential conflicts because the traffic is intense – action video-games can help you to overcome these problems. You will find that you can multi-track many radar blips with increasing ease, when you spend time playing action video games for a minimum of 10 hours. Yes, after 2 weeks of gaming, you will hear about a colleague’s comic experience while “working the traffic”, progressing a strip and coordinating with several sectors in one minute. You will have a wider visual range and your attention to detail will improve.  What is the farthest distance away that you can read the QNH, the Flight Level and the speed or Mach number?

You can benefit even if you are an Aerodrome Specialist. Your visual acuity improves in that you will spot aircraft not only against the backdrop of a sunny sky or starry night but also on a grey day. The effect of distractions like ringing phones and background conversations will diminish.  

The underlying reasoning is that if you spend just 1 h a day for at least 10 consecutive days, you strengthen and exercise your eye muscles and your brain matter by virtually evading, running from and dodging your enemy. Yes, the effect is similar to the way that a Thai Muay kick boxer strengthens her shin by routinely kicking it against a punching bag. Playing action video games stregthens our visual skills, attention and perception. If you are an ATCO that plays action video games, can you attest to the statement that these games enhance ATC skills?  Which is your favorite game?

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