Video Game Benefits in Surgery

Jonathan Harrison, in his TED talk titled ‘How video games can empower real world success’ (link), debunks the commonly held notion that games are a luxury that have little real world benefit. Instead, he talks about the skills gamers develop that transfer to real world settings.

One real world benefit he briefly mentioned that I find interesting is the use of Nintendo Wii games as a training tool by Dr. James Rosser, a laparoscopic surgeon also known as the ‘Nintendo surgeon’. Laparoscopic surgery involves inserting thin fiber-optic tubes through tiny incisions in patients’ skin into their abdominal cavities. This way, surgeons can peek into patients’ internal organs for diagnosis of problems such as liver disease without having to make large incisions (click here to view a goreless video depicting laparoscopic surgery). As you can see from the video, this surgery requires a high level of hand-eye coordination.

That’s where Dr. Rosser and his Nintendo Wii come in. Dr. Rosser uses the Wii to train surgeons to help them develop the intricate hand-eye coordination required for successful laparoscopic surgeries. By playing Wii games, surgeons develop precision control between their arm movements and the objects moving on the TV screen–a setup almost identical to laparoscopic surgery. This approach has been so successful that in 2007 he co-authored a research paper on the beneficial effects of video game training on laparoscopic surgical skills (click here to view the paper). In the paper summary, he writes that “Training curricula that include video games may help thin the technical interface between surgeons and screen-mediated applications, such as laparoscopic surgery. Video games may be a practical teaching tool to help train surgeons.” I already knew about the use of video games to train professionals (e.g. flight simulators for pilots), but I always imagined surgery as a field that traditionally does not use play as a form of teaching. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the benefits of playing video games transfer to a field as seemingly ‘playless’ as surgery.

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5 thoughts on “Video Game Benefits in Surgery

  1. I agree that it is very interesting to find that skills from video games can be transferred to surgical procedures. I wonder if more individuals will take “play” more seriously as we continue to draw connections between gaming and real world application. Especially, when gaming relates to serious careers such as biologist, chemist, doctors, geneticist and more. I believe as a society we should not overlook gaming as something useless. Clearly, buried within the practice of gaming there is a lot of possible benefits to be gained and we need to further examine them.

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    • Totally! I am annoyed by the generally negative perception of video games held by society, despite lots of evidence showing that video games are mostly beneficial. I think that the public should be made known about these benefits. A way to do this would perhaps be with ads that video game publishers make about the benefits of games.

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  2. Recently, I too have been finding out more and more about the hidden benefits that video games have to offer. About a month ago, I posted about TED talk on the brain during video games, and the speaker shared multiple of the positive impacts that these games have on our brain. I also read another article mentioning some other cognitive benefits of gaming such as improvement in: coordination, problem solving skills, memory, attention and concentration, and much more. It is indeed pleasantly surprising finding promising data contrary to the popular belief that video games have little to no benefits. I feel that the next step is to make this common knowledge, and argue that, while there may be some negative effects of playing video games, they can offer many benefits to the players health and cognition.

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    • I agree that benefits of video games greatly outweigh its negative effects. A great way to make this common knowledge would be if the video game industry spent a fraction of the money they currently spend on video game advertising into informing the public about the benefits of playing video games. For example, E3 conferences could have a panel session with scientists who present research about the benefits of playing games, or talks from successful people who are also avid gamers.

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  3. I love the proposal that video games can serve real-life, practical purposes! This almost reminds me of the board game Operation where the players have to keep their hand steady enough to not touch the cavity walls when bringing the “ailments” up with a pair of tweezers. It really seems like video games tests this same ability although perhaps at a higher level. Maybe I’m just biased because I never had much of an exposure to board games in comparison to video games, but personally the video games gets my heart-racing more than board games could which would recreate the pressure that doctors would feel while giving real surgery. Lastly, one quick addition to the usefulness of video games is that they are often used to help cure “lazy eye” issues. By wearing a patch over the dominant eye and they playing video games with the lazy eye, it serves to exercise the eye muscles more than other more passive activities would.

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