First-person shooters could help in the rehabilitation of patients with traumatic brain injuries, a new study has found, suggesting that the likes of Halo, Call of Duty, and Destiny might improve the brain's attention span and its ability to process information.
"This type of injury can have lifelong implications," said lead researcher Alexandra Vakili from Macquarie University in Australia. "Rehabilitation is a long process, but without intervention the patient may never return to work. The economic benefits of retraining cognitive functioning benefits both the individual and the community at large."
For the purposes of the study, Vakili and his team recruited a group of 31 patients who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, and asked them to play a first-person shooter, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, on a console.
During the gameplay, the participants were trained on how to solve problems and follow strategies related to the challenges in the game. They also spent some time in an educational programme addressing common consequences of brain injury and compensatory strategies.
Not only did the participants become better at playing, they subsequently became more adept at everyday tasks than the control group.
Given that this type of brain injury tends to occur more frequently in young men (the study participants were males aged between 18-65 years), the benefit of using a games console as a means of treatment is that it's likely to be something they're already familiar with, the researchers point out.
It would also reduce the need for specialised equipment – while gaming machines from Sony and Microsoft might seem pricey to consumers, they're not on the same level as most other medical equipment.
It should be noted that the sample size of the study is small, so we need more studies and evidence to back up the findings, particularly as traumatic brain injuries can vary widely in terms of their cause and symptoms.
"What we need now are larger randomised controlled trials in this area, to build on the positive results reported by the participants," Vakili said. "The potential that action gaming has to help this set of patients is really exciting."
There has been plenty of previous research pointing to the mental benefits of playing video games, something you might want to point to the next time you get disapproving looks from someone else for spending too much time on the PlayStation or Xbox. Earlier studies have shown links between gaming and boosts in motor skills, learning speed, problem solving, memory, and brain connectivity.
The research has now been published in Cogent Psychology.