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November 23, 2012

Slate: High-school video gamers match physicians at robotic-surgery simulation

The applicability of video game skills to modern warfare-in the use of drones, in particular-is well known. But a new study suggests, not surprisingly, that gamers might also have an edge in robotic surgery.

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston tasked OB/GYN residents and 10th graders who regularly play video games to perform tasks on a robotic-surgery simulation-like suturing. On average, the high-school students, who played two hours of video games a day, performed just as well as the residents-a few individual teenagers even did better. (Some have reported that the study showed the teenagers did better than the residents, but the difference in their performances is statistically insignificant.)

UTMBG's Sami Kilic, the lead author on the study, says high-school students who played virtual doctor were devotees of first-person shooters (especially the Call of Duty franchise-"a wild game," Kilic says), as well as games featuring sports, strategy, and auto racing. Those who devoted their time to shooting games and sports games did the best at the robotic-surgery simulation-perhaps, he speculates, because the unpredictability of the gameplay was similar to surgery.

The question, Kilic says, is whether spending two hours a day at a game, as these high-schoolers did, might hinder other areas of their development, especially social skills. He hopes to explore that issue soon, with the help of behavioralists.

In the mean time, he says, "I'm not encouraging [teenagers] to spend countless hours in front of the computer games, because our job is not to create the best surgeon ever or the best soldier ever … in this age group. They have to have the fundamental human being skills in their developing age."

Of course, it's not exactly surprising that "video games are making us better at video games." Robot surgery will be increasingly common in the coming years-so it's important for people to understand that gaming skills may have real-world applications, or at least virtual applications with real-world consequences.

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