In my last blog post entitled ‘Playing Sport-Based Games for IRL Benefit’, I discussed the potential benefit that traditional-sport athletes may receive through video-game play, from a skill/strategy standpoint. Sport-based games are developed so intricately these days, to the point where top athletes such as NFL player Cam Newton and NBA star LeBron James have reported using them to understand opponents playbooks, or adapt to new teammates tendencies and skillset. There is another source of benefit that can be received for athletes through video-game play, which isn’t strictly limited to sport-based games.
First and third-person shooter games (i.e. Call of Duty and Fortnite) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games (i.e. League of Legends), often together labelled as Action Video-Games (AVGs), are wildly popular genres of video-games. According to activeplayer.io, the combined playership of just five popular AVGs (Fortnite, League of Legends, Apex Legends, CS:GO and Valorant) was over 550 million people in April this year. There is an ever-growing body of research on how playing exactly these types of games can provide enhancements in many cognitive/ perceptual attributes. Compared to non-AVG playing individuals, studies have found AVG players to show enhanced spatial and temporal visual perception (Li et al., 2009; Li et al., 2010; Green and Bavelier, 2007), as well as larger central and peripheral visual fields (Buckley et al., 2010). Action Video-Game players also seem to be better at integrating information from multiple sensory modalities (i.e. hearing & vision, Donohue, Woldorff and Mitroff, 2010), selectively attending to salient information and ignoring distractors (Cain et al., 2014; Bavelier et al., 2012a; Mishra et al., 2011), and quickly switching their attention from one item to the next (Wu and Spence, 2013; Kowal et al., 2018). On top of that, AVG players seem to have enhanced overall processing speed or ‘cognitive throughput’ (Föcker et al., 2018; Wu and Spence, 2013; Bavelier et al., 2012a; Mishra et al., 2011; Chisholm and Kingstone, 2012), as well as ability to learn faster than their non-gaming counterparts (Bavelier et al., 2012b). This spans beyond association studies, with ‘training’ studies in which non-AVG players play as little as 10 hours of AVGs showing cognitive benefit (see Bediou et al., 2018 & Toth et al., 2020 for reviews).
These benefits are self-explanatory for traditional-sport athletes. An athlete who is faster able to take more visual information, better integrate that with auditory information, focus on important items and ignore distractors, flexibly shift that focus faster when needed, learn faster, and just process information faster overall, is a superior athlete. Like in the last article, it’s important to stress that benefits received will not outweigh those gained from traditional methods of practice. It’s also important that video-game play isn’t excessive. Overuse injuries can occur from excessive video-game play, with examples of them keeping professional athletes on the injury list in important matches; Detroit Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya famously missed the 2006 American League Championship series because of a forearm & wrist injury attributed somewhat to excessive play of the game Guitar Hero. In the right doses however, playing video-games may give the traditional athlete a benefit not only in terms of skills and strategies, but by training their cognitive skills so there are at their sharpest come gametime.
Tim Smithies is an Irish Research Council funded researcher (PhD) studying in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick, with Lero: The Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, and with Logitech. His PhD focuses on specializing in sleep and esports performance. His research interests include the performance of elite individuals, esport career opportunity & cognitive performance of esport athletes.