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.