The Eyes Have It: Gamers 1, Non-Gamers 0

By Craig Pearson on September 17th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

The Demo failed all the perception tasks
I’m not a smart man, so when a person with a badge that says “scienceologist” on it sits me down and tells me a science fact, I have no choice but to believe her. She’s done all that sciencology work, after all. That’s what of University of Leicester’s School of Psychology did when they forwarded me their paper “Selectively enhanced motion perception in core video gamers”. With the help of a sock puppet and a book chewable corners, they informed me that that video gamers have a very specific perceptual advantage: moving backwards.

Think about it. How often do you walk backwards in real-life? Now how often do you do it in a game? Exactly. The researchers conducted a series of tests between games and non-gamers to examine the effect of playing video games on motion perception. For the most part there was no difference, apart from that one key area.

The only significant difference was in the case of contracting radial motion – which we would generally only experience when travelling backwards and seeing our surroundings shrinking away towards the distance.

Gamers proved to be significantly better at detecting this motion than non-gamers.

The researchers believe this is because walking backwards is a fairly common movement in the world of action games, particularly when a player is dodging an enemy or exploring an area.

In contrast, we would very rarely walk backwards with our eyes fixed forward in everyday life.

The test subjects, 16 action video game players – who played for more than 10 hours a week – along with 16 people who played action games for less than an hour per week, were asked to watch a screen with 400 dots moving on a grey background. Some moved randomly, while other followed a pattern. The fewer dots it took for the subject recognise the movement, the better their perception. So well done, action gamers: you now have proof that you’re better at moon-walking, baseball, and backing away from angry cats.

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44 Comments »

  1. Meat Circus says:

    Though, of course, one study isn’t really very useful. Until other people succeed or fail to reproduce these results several times, then we can perform a rigorous meta-analysis and start drawing conclusions.

    Until then: play more games.

    • LTK says:

      Although knowing the p-values and effect sizes can already give us a pretty good idea of whether we can expect this to be replicated.

      Plus, this is not exactly a groundbreaking study in a high-impact journal, so I’d say the authors should consider themselves extremely flattered if they did get an independent replication!

  2. slerbal says:

    I’m not a smart man, so when a person with a badge that says “scienceologist” on it sits me down and tells me a science fact, I have no choice but to believe her.

    I immediately misread that as Scientologist…. Aside from that interesting! All these years I’ve been walking backwards and everyone said I was mad, but finally, finally, I have my proof! :)

  3. LTK says:

    As a kid I used to practice running backwards. It only made me more experienced in falling flat on my ass, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

  4. Psymon says:

    Speaking of eyes, I read ‘scienceologist’ as ‘scientologist’. Had to double take.

  5. felisc says:

    We should organize a rps marathon of backwards running. Next rezzed, bring your running shoes !

  6. Lessing says:

    For those interested, there is a much more high-impact study just out in Nature about gaming and its impact on cognitive skills. Here’s the summary: http://www.nature.com/news/gaming-improves-multitasking-skills-1.13674

  7. airmikee99 says:

    So violence in games doesn’t teach people to be violent, but walking backwards in games teaches people to walk backwards?

    The University of Leicester’s School of Psychology is where Jack Thompson, Leland Yee, and Diane Feinstein all went to school, right?

    • Josh W says:

      It’s a difference between associated skills and proclivities. Maybe games makes people better at being violent, without actually making them more prone to violence. Except we don’t have substantial support for even that yet. And actually, this is a pretty great example of studying gamers, you look at what random stuff they are actually good at perceiving out of various generalised things, not just jumping to either side of a cliche.

    • bill says:

      Doing things helps people to do things better. It’s actually a pretty well known thing.

    • 9squirrels says:

      Action games tend to make people BETTER at detecting movement backwards, not MORE LIKELY to move backwards.

  8. mr.black says:

    Eeh. Standing in front of the class every workday, I tend to walk backwards at least a few steps a day..
    Then I run into an inconveniently placed bag, or that damn longer-than-norm table and hilarity ensues..

  9. pilouuuu says:

    Well, it’s good for when you need to take a picture with a camera without using zoom. Unless you have waterfalls behind you.

  10. gwathdring says:

    To be clear showing it improves “contracting radial motion” doesn’t have much direct bearing on walking backwards

  11. Apocalypse says:

    I can tell you that moving backwards and sidewards is even more common in martial arts than in video games. And we do it in better 3D than gamers, which makes all the difference for perception. An error of a inch makes all the difference between a dodge and wonderful counter hit and a hurtful strike with 40″ of steel against your body.
    *sigh* I can not wait to get my Oculus Rift, having a similar experience in gaming should be amazing.

    And no, punching people into the face does not make you more violent either, but it makes you more effective if the need for violence arise ;-)

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Also significantly more controlled and less likely to lose it over nothing important.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      I think punching someone in the face does make you more violent than someone who doesn’t. It’s kind of the definition, right?

      • Jazzyboy says:

        No, punching people in the face just shows that you are violent. I mean, if you decide to punch someone in the face, you were clearly already violent. You don’t become violent during the act.

        Though actually, you might become slightly more violent afterwards if you succeed in the act since you’d now know that you’re a total badass and you’d start becoming more arrogantly aggressive in order to show off your new found talent.

  12. Ergates_Antius says:

    Note to all: This study suggest gaming makes you better at detecting backwards motion, not that it makes you better at walking backwards.

  13. bill says:

    I knew all those games would be useful eventually!

    But isn’t walking backwards against the honour code in modern shooters?

  14. King Eternity says:

    I really want someone to do a study of motion prediction in 3 dimensional space amongst Quake players (or Unreal Tournament, Tribes, any other game with a rocket launcher-like weapon that requires prediction shots).

    I swear to god my ability to reflexively catch fast-moving objects is godlike, you can’t knock something off a table within my arms reach and have it hit the ground; and feel free to whip stuff at my head, I will catch that shit all day while barely even looking up. I attribute this ability to Quake specifically because I’m not naturally talented at sport in other areas but I regularly amaze witnesses with my spiderman-like reflex catches.

  15. xfstef says:

    hey and let’s not forget how much better french soldiers gamers could be ;)

    • Dozer says:

      You misunderstand the nature of the Fall of France. The Germans walked 100km through a forest that was supposed to be impassible and encircled the British and French troops who were concentrated at the Belgian end of the lines, cutting them off. When the enemy has sneaked up behind you, you don’t run backwards :)

      In fact it was the Soviet forces who did all the backwards-running, all the way from Poland to Moscow, while burning everything along the way. Which was devastatingly effective against the German forces.

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