Nathan Lui has his eyes glued to the television.
His feet are up and resting comfortably on the ottoman. The only motion he performs is the staccato of his fingers and the rapid back-and-forth movement of his eyes.
Lui is enjoying the popular game “Street Fighter” on the Playstation 3, but little does he know he’s actually getting smarter.
Lui says that as video games become more complex so do the requirements of the user.
“You need to have a better strategy [than your opponent],” he said. “You also need a better logic and to be able to do many things at once.”
A 2003 report by James Paul Gee, professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, suggests that individuals who enjoy video games can learn cognitive skills that enhance intelligence.
Video games provide a motivating way to polish skills such as critical thinking, spatial reasoning, strategizing, and systems thinking (the ability to understand variables). These skills in turn can be applied to real-life situations.
“Many games are on the border of real-life because people are playing collaboratively and socializing with other people,” Gee said. “There is an argument that gamers think better strategically and perhaps they can learn about [cognitive] systems better.”
Other than the intellectual value video games offer, Gee says that video games can be treated like a book or movie where such mediums can elicit an emotional response.
This is especially true for violent video games such as the latest instalment of the Call of Duty franchise. In this particular game, a situation arises where the user assumes the role of a terrorist and is tasked with killing innocent people while at an airport.
“It’s an emotional moment and it’s supposed to function like it would in literature — it’s supposed to make you think about it,” Gee said.
Sometimes creating a situation in a video game that promotes thought in the user can lead to a different type of learning. Justin Callanan, co-owner of Mashin Studios, a game-development company based in Scarborough says that games entice users to learn about what they see on the screen.
“A prime example is Assassin’s Creed 2 which is a history lesson about renaissance Italy,” Callanan said. “Even in [the game] Dante’s Inferno, Dante’s lyrics are finding it’s way into the gaming world and that might get kids interested in the book, Dante’s Divine Comedy.”
What Callanan says is true. When users become interested in the game they enjoy, they seek out opportunities to learn more about the game.
“Almost all people who play games today go on to fan sites to discuss games, or to modify them, or critique the company,” Gee said. “These are very social activities you do with other people, especially for young people.”
Roger Tran, an organizer for social gaming events says that games carry an unfair and negative stigma.
“People don’t really know who I am or what I’ve accomplished in life because I play video games,” Tran said.
“That’s unfair because if you take something like movies, you’re just passive, but with video games you’re actually doing something and you’re being active.”
Discover Magazine–a summary of James Gee’s research: