Video and Computer Games Superempower Horizontal Thinking

Brain Training,” by Orson Card, Civilization Watch, 26 June 2005,

While I struggle on how to integrate this with that, some kind words on videogames by Orson Scott Card:


When you play videogames, you’re giving your brain an intense workout, and the skills you’re developing are useful across the board.

It’s not like riding a bike, where the muscles you develop are useful for riding a bike. When you’re playing a videogame, you’re stretching your ability to notice things with your peripheral vision (useful for driving cars without killing people), recognize patterns, remember intricate series of events, and to delay instant gratification for greater rewards later.

Most of all, you’re practicing learning.

Compare it to homework, where you simply repeat what you’ve already learned until it’s boring. It never gets faster. And if you’re making mistakes, you don’t get any feedback until the teacher grades your work and hands it back.

With videogames, you get instant response to your mistakes and a chance to correct them right away. And when you’ve mastered a pattern or figured out a puzzle and moved on, the next puzzle is more challenging and the next pattern is faster or more complex … or both.

Videogames keep you constantly on the edge of your abilities, stretching, growing.

And even though the player may be physically alone, he is actually moving in space and time, interacting with many “others” at the same time.

According to the article, “Gee contends that the way gamers explore virtual worlds mirrors the way the brain processes multiple, but interconnected, streams of information in the real world” (Steven Johnson, “Your Brain on Video Games,” p. 41).

Here’s the clincher: In a study conducted at the University of Rochester, cognitive scientists Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier discovered that the perceptual differences between gamers and nongamers were “far more pronounced than the differences between hearing and deaf individuals.” In other words, playing videogames stretches and improves your visual perception more than having to compensate for deafness does!

They wondered if maybe they got these results because people who were naturally more perceptive were more likely to play games. They took a bunch of complete nongamers and had them immerse themselves in the World War II game Medal of Honor and “the evidence was overwhelming: Games were literally making people perceive the world more clearly” (p. 41).

Games are also addictive. It’s not just that they stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain — they also imprint patterns that continue after the game is over. Many people have reported persistent semi-hallucinations of Tetris shapes or Pac-Man patterns superimposing themselves on the real world hours after they have stopped playing.


Mission: read blogs. Write posts for blog.

But maybe some Unreal Tournament first…

0 thoughts on “Video and Computer Games Superempower Horizontal Thinking”

  1. Very interesting article. I've believed for many years that video games were being used by the United States military as a way of training, recruiting, and indoctrinating the public. This has been confirmed by America's Army, which I'm sure you're aware of.

    I think insurgents use games as training methods as well. They're fools if they don't. When you can have a military simulator for $200 that would have cost $10million 5 years ago, you take what you can get and you use it.

    I've noticed the tetris hallucinations for years. I found that I could actually “play” tetris on my closed eyelids after long playing sessions. I wonder what skills games like C&C produce. That's one reason why in the mid 90s I switched my gaming over entirely to strategy games: I think the skills they teach are useful for other things than running armored companies, and I think they're more useful than whatever skills shooters may inculcate…

  2. I also was able to play Tetris with my eyes closed. I remember playing Civilization II, SimCity 2000, and Morrowind while asleep. From time to time I will have “flashes” of Unreal Tournament 2004, complete with raptor aircraft obscured by “fog.”

    Advanced computer games and software programs — from Command & Conquer to Linux to Google Earth — require a lot of infrastructure to develop and very little to acquire and use.

    Orscon Scott Card's article caught my eye because I meant to write something similar a month ago, after I caught a particularly enraging anti-videogame segment on “Focus on the Family.” While Mr. Card is a genius generally, it's still nice to have such a public “Christian conservative” come out in favor of fun. 😉

    The most important lesson computer games teach is this: if you haven't accomplished your goal, it's because you haven't tried the right things. Every copy of The Sims, Civilization, or Grand Theft Auto are kid-sized strategic-corporal factories.

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