Computer gaming has never been so popular. Last year, almost half the UK population played computer games, with a combined spend of $4.2 billion. And despite popular stereotypes about computer gamers being young men, there is a roughly equal split between genders with people across the age range engaging in some form of gaming activity.
Critics claim that computer games can encourage a sedentary lifestyle, reduce human interaction and even provoke criminal violence. However, with such widespread use of computer games across society it is important to consider both sides of the story.
Digital skills are increasingly important in maximising the effectiveness and productivity of the UK workforce. This is the case for both soft skills that enable digital social interaction and also for technical competences related to development and deployment of digital systems that underpin much of the modern economy. It is well understood that experience in the use of computer office applications enhances digital skills, but can playing computing games also enhance and complement these skills?
Academic research points to a range of cognitive benefits from playing computer games. These include improvements in visual processes; better attention and focus such as the ability to track moving objects in a field of distractors; and increased executive functioning such as multi-tasking.
These skills are also essential for ensuring defence and security of the UK. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Stephen Hillier, recently commented that “a lot of the skills (we need), the ability to fuse data, to have situational awareness, to understand the environment, are skills which (gaming) helps build up”. Many games now are online, interactive and modifiable, enabling players to create virtual worlds in which they can explore and interact, acting in some cases as a way to explore careers that players might be interested in, such as police officers or pilots.
Modified games technology has been exploited for some time now in training and simulation where they have proven to be powerful tools to train cognitive or “how to think” skills in military and security scenarios. Hardware such as virtual reality and mixed reality headsets are being widely exploited in professional applications. Looking ahead, these environments may be ideal to work out and then train the optimum mix of human and machine.
Recent analysis by Vedette and our partners has looked at the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. Although not exclusive to computer games technology it is proving to be a powerful technique to enhance user engagement in areas such as recruitment, training and marketing.
At a time when the use of technology and AI is under scrutiny, it is worth highlighting the positive impacts of computer gaming for individuals and society more widely. Games technology also has much to offer, for example, through exploitation in training and experimentation, as a platform for developing and training AI, or looking at innovative ways of managing and exploiting data.