Could Playing “Call of Duty” Lead To A Successful Career?

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Good news, gamers. All those hours you’ve logged playing Call of Duty or Halo? Not a waste of time like you’d think. In fact, you could very well have a bright future ahead of you— perhaps as a laparoscopic surgeon.

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A recent review put together by researchers from the University of Rochester and published in WIREs Cognitive Sci found that action-oriented first-person shooters — namely Call of Duty and Halo — may actually help improve an important branch of a person’s cognitive functioning called visual attention.

What exactly is visual attention? Well, it’s a combination of several different things, but it essentially works like this: When you’re driving a car, you’re bombarded with tons of visual stimuli – street signs, billboards, pedestrians, etc. – and your attention is stretched across your field of vision. In order to not crash, the driver assigns elements framed within his field of vision different degrees of relevance (kids playing catch in the street demand more attention than that telephone pole in the distance, for example). It’s something that we don’t really  think too much about, but is still crucial to our daily being nonetheless. (More on See the top 10 failed video game consoles)

So where do first-person shooters come in? Bjorn Hubert-Wallander, one of the review’s co-authors, had this to say:

“Just as drivers have to focus on the road, other cars, and potential obstacles while ignoring other information, modern action games place heavy attentional demands on players,” said Hubert-Wallander. “These games require players to aim and shoot accurately in the center of the screen while continuously tracking other enemies and fast moving objects.”

The findings emphasize fast-paced FPS games— not plodding strategies like FarmVille, or visuo-motor games like Tetris. And while action gamers were found just as susceptible to outside distractions as nongamers were, the main difference is in their ability to discard irrelevant information and reorient their attention to important items quicker and more efficiently.

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But here’s the fun part. The review concludes, “Those in professions that demand ‘super-normal’ attentional function such as jet fighter pilots, ground soldiers, and many other military professionals would benefit enormously from enhanced visual attention.”

Makes sense, right? Well, that’s not all. “Laparoscopic surgeons have already been reported to benefit from video game training,” the review states. “Comparisons between surgeons who regularly play video games and surgeons who do not demonstrate shorter surgery completion times and fewer errors on a common laparoscopy performance diagnostic tool.”

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Of course, further testing needs to be done to see if video games really do better a person’s real world skills (volunteers, anyone?), and the review is the first to admit the obvious limits of gaming’s cognitive impact.

But maybe the day isn’t so far away that the next time your (insert: mom, girlfriend, roommate, cat) pesters you for “wasting” your day in front of your PS3, you can tell them with a straight face that you’ve been devotedly prepping for a brighter future.

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