From Scientific American:
There has been increasing interest on the possibility that video games may actually induce brain changes that lead to behavioral benefits. A number of applications of computer games have been developed for education and rehabilitation. At least anecdotally, individuals who have played a lot of video games using joy stick controllers in their youth are supposed to make better airline pilots when they grow-up. However, finding that familiarity with the motor skills required to operate a computer or a gaming console conveys advantages for the control of similar technology is not that surprising or exciting. We have long known that practice can make perfect.
A recent study by Daphne Bavelier and colleagues at the University of Rochester offers the intriguing suggestion that playing video games may not only be beneficial because of practicing specific skills, but may also enhance core functions of vision – something that has been classically viewed as immutable as an adult. These investigators have reported that playing certain action video games results in a significant improvement in “visual contrast sensitivity,” a measure of how well an individual is able to discern low-contrast targets. Interestingly, it mattered what type of video game was played. The study group that showed enhancements in contrast sensitivity played “Unreal Tournament 2004” and “Call of Duty 2,” — both fast-paced and action-oriented games. In contrast, control subjects played games like “The Sims 2,” a visual engaging game of social interactions which is much less demanding in terms of visual attention and visuo-motor coordination.
It seems likely, the study suggests, that the specific characteristics and demands of a video game induce different brain changes and thus promote different behavioral advantages. If action games that train visual scanning and visuo-motor coordination, like “Unreal Tournament 2004” and “Call of Duty 2” result in improved visual contrast sensitivity and improved fine motor coordination, perhaps games like “The Sims 2” or “Warcraft” may be beneficial in promoting empathy or social interaction skills. A careful scientific exploration of such issues may lead to the development of video games and technologies with targeted applications of different cognitive functions and even certain patient populations.