We’ve all heard the joke before, at least in television or movies: someone gets behind the wheel of a car and prepares to speed off, only for someone to question their qualifications—at which point we learned that they’ve only had experience in driving cars in video games. Cue the gas pedal hitting the floor before any of the now-horrified passengers can leap from the vehicle, followed by terrible driving that is often drummed up for laughs. Yet despite that cliche becoming pretty widespread in recent years, it turns out there may actually be some truth behind the quip.
No, you won’t likely learn the rules of the road through a game, but there are other ways that you can improve yourself that will help when you finally get behind the wheel. Published in the Psychological Science journal, a new study shows that playing an “action video game” like
Mario Kart can improve your visuomotor control, which is defined as the “ability to coordinate incoming visual information with their motor control, a skill critical to many real-world behaviors including driving.”
To test this, researchers used a driving simulator to compare two groups: those who played action video games at least five hours a week for the last six months, versus those who had little experience with action games. When their results showed that the gamers had an easier time controlling the vehicles, even when obstacles and headwinds were introduced, they set off to prove that it wasn’t just correlation, but causation as well. The researchers brought in groups of people with no gaming experience, had them run through the simulation, and then had them play one of two games:
Mario Kart (an “action” game) or Roller Coaster Tycoon III (a passive title that let these people serve as a control group).
Each of these groups played their chosen titles for five hours, at which point they were placed in the driving simulation again. While the RCT group showed no improvement, the Mario Kart players showed increased visuomotor control. Another test was conducted that let gamers play for ten hours, and that group saw even greater improvement in their abilities.
“Our research shows that playing easily accessible action video games for as little as 5 hours can be a cost-effective tool to help people improve essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving,” the lead author of the study, Li Li, stated. Further research also showed that different types of games will help people with different levels of driving skill.
“The differing effects of driving and FPS video games on the sensorimotor system suggest that for experienced drivers, who have stable control but need to improve their ability to predict input error signals, training with FPS rather than driving video games is more effective. In contrast, for novice drivers, who are still struggling with obtaining stable control, training with driving rather than FPS video games is more helpful.”
— Li Li
What do you think of this study? Have you ever felt like Mario Kart or other driving games have helped you learn the rules of the road, or is this whole idea still just a joke to you? Would you like to see more gaming studies like this be done? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!