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!

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Our Verdict

Tyler Meehan
Tyler is verbose. He apologizes for that. Tyler "Alpha" Meehan's first experiences with gaming came from his cousins' NES and the Mario games that went with it. They were fun, but merely brief distractions while on the road (yes, they had an NES in their car. It was awesome, and he was jealous). Still, nothing compared to his Star Wars books. OR SO HE THOUGHT. His love of gaming truly began when he and a friend came together to beat the Nintendo 64's Mission: Impossible, a challenge so intense that Tyler bought his own console to facilitate its defeat. Upon being introduced to Ocarina of Time (an introduction that included, among other spoilers, the freakin' final boss fight. GEEZ, PHILIP), his lot in life as a Nintendo fanboy was sealed in stone. His ability to recall absolutely useless video game information served him well during the Pokémon craze, and helped him aid numerous friends in their own endeavors to defeat games like Majora's Mask and Kingdom Hearts. Those were good days. Good days... The Zelda series soon became his primary obsession fascination, but additionally he was soon introduced to text-based RPGs by one of his schoolmates. Discovering that he had a knack for the English language and a strong love of telling stories, he started putting effort into writing his own storylines. That all got put onto the backburner, though, when he discovered the Zelda online community, particularly The Desert Colossus's Hyrule Adventures 2, an online text RPG based in the Zelda world. He joined under the pseudonym of "Alpha" and soon became one of their lead writers, going so far as to join the moderator staff and, in a year's time, become the head administrator of the RPG. During this time, Twilight Princess was released, and he joined several other TDCers in posting their thoughts on the game - his "Twilight Impression Posts" lasted for several months and were well received by the community. Staying on even after the webmaster was forced to retire, he continued to provide occasional news posts and articles for the site, until it became clear that the site was dying. He turned his focus back to Hyrule Adventures 2 and his college studies, until the latter forced him to stop work on the former. Tyler graduated a few years ago from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a Bachelors in Computer Science, and now serves as a software engineer for a rather large company that he doesn't feel like telling you all about (he's a jerk like that sometimes). His love of gaming and writing still strong, he joined the Zelda Informer staff in early 2013 to write a walkthrough for The Wind Waker, but later began using his English skills to become ZI and Gamnesia's first dedicated Copy Editor. When not trying to get Brian to shut up in Gamnesia's group chat, he spends his time writing Zelda fanfiction, planning some original fantasy stories that he may or may not try to publish some day, and playing games on his Wii, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo 3DS. He intends to get a WiiU sooner or later, probably around when Pikmin 3 comes out, but has little interest in the other consoles currently. Also, he can't stand writing bios in first-person. Talking about yourself like that is just...weird.


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