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Gaming Is Growing Up

Video game technology

March 31, 2008
By Administrator


Research found that those junior doctors who were or had been regular video game players performed manifestly better.

Stanford University is using video game technology to understand proteins on a molecular level.

The worlds of keyhole surgery, molecular research, problem obesity, cancer treatment and CAT scanning are turning to the unlikeliest source in a bid for answers to some of modern science’s most complex questions – the video game industry.

While lazy politicians, TV presenters and tabloids rage against video games, the industry itself is quietly developing the dignity, integrity and intelligence all too absent from affairs of state, studio couches and newspaper front pages. This ATEI feature looks at how the video games’ stock and trade, innovation and imagination, are being utilized across a host of scientific disciplines. In short, video games tentacles are extending far beyond the arcade. Video games are growing up.

Each and every day, Klaus Schulten, Director of Theoretical and Computational Biophysics at Chicago’s Beckman Institute performs calculations on human cell components using an inexpensive video card developed by Sony, Microsoft and ATI for serious video gamers. His life’s work is being fuelled by technology designed to entertain.


But video games and everything to do with them are the work of Satan, are they not? That’s what politicians tell us.

“It’s been a godsend, a gift to science,” enthused Schulten “When we started out 15 years ago, we had a $400,000 graphics computer. It couldn’t do the things that these graphics boards do that cost a few hundred dollars. Today everyone has one on his or her desk. Anytime technology becomes a commodity, it costs less than specialized equipment.”

Elsewhere, while the rest of the world looks into its ever-expanding waist, active video gaming or ‘activetainment’ is being employed as an innovative way to escape the obesity trap that has ambushed a generation of Western children. At East Carolina University, exercise scientist Matt Mahar is carrying out research on the impact of physically active video games on children.

The aim of the study is to determine strategies that would help curb the growing childhood obesity problem in the US. Maher commented: “We wanted to find out why, and also how, to get kids to be more physically active. If we find there is a big difference in caloric expenditure with kids who use a game like Dance Dance Revolution versus an inactive game, then maybe recreation centres or boys and girls clubs would have more of them available.”

In the study, players have breathing apparatus strapped onto their back and around their face. Each player switches from stationary Cycle FX bicycle for Moto Racer to a step-sensor pad for Dance Dance Revolution. The boxing game, Knockout, tracks players’ moves as they attempt to knock out a competitor.

“If it’s fun and beneficial, maybe it could make a dent in the obesity problem with children. If we don’t do something dramatic soon, half of the kids in the U.S. will be obese,” Mahar concluded.

In Baltimore, Md., the main character in Re-Mission, a video game created by California-based HopeLab, has been designed to help youngsters suffering from cancer cope with the disease. Re-Mission’s nanobot ‘Roxxi’ enters a 3-D environment and invites players to journey through the body of a young cancer sufferer and destroy cancer cells.

A 400-patient study in Britain, Canada, France, Spain and the U.S. showed that the game helped young players cope with the disease. Steve Cole, vice-president of HopeLab confirmed: “Recognizing you have a symptom and fighting for control, these are issues that really make a difference.”

Bruce Jarrel, deputy dean at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, added: “The community of medicine has to view games not just as entertainment but as a way to healthcare.”
In California, what has recently been coined “The Serious Games Movement” is gathering pace. Sony is working with Stanford University on a distributing computing project that uses dormant Playstation 3s for scientific research. During downtime, online gamers use their online PS3s to power studies into the way proteins are formed and their role in human diseases.
Mercury Computer of Massachusetts uses IBM’s “Cell” (the power behind PS3) ability to render a 3-D image from a CAT scan faster than existing technologies. They can do this because The Cell has been specially designed to replicate 3-D gaming worlds quickly and accurately.
Maybe it’s a stretch, but the icing on the cake has to be a recent study that said playing video games could hold the key to improved keyhole surgery performance. A recent study conducted amongst New York junior doctors has unearthed some fascinating findings. The research found that those junior doctors who were or had been regular video game players performed mani-
festly better than their non-playing counterparts in surgical procedures,
particularly keyhole, which required subtlety and dexterity with a joystick/monitor feedback setup.
Gamers of all types were 27 per cent faster and made 37 per cent fewer errors while regular current gamers made an incredible 47 per cent fewer errors and were 49 per cent faster than their non-playing counterparts.
The moral is, next time you’re going into surgery ask your physician if he’s ever heard of Ryu, Lara Croft or Mario.
In fields as diverse as health and military training, molecular research and international obesity, what is clearly emerging is that the technology developed for arcades and honed for home use is quietly making a very real, very tangible contribution to the value of people’s lives. While politicians continue to heat up the planet with hot air, it looks ever more likely that something like video game technology will be used to solve climate change.
Game over for the anti-video game brigade?
Probably not. But surely they’re running out of lives … o