When we first started C! Magazine, we did some racing challenges that started at video games and ended on the track. It was hugely interesting and entertaining. New studies have taken that fun idea and looked into it even further. There are of course modern simulation systems that help train people in everything from flying to racing to tactics for the military. But would they help you develop the skills and habits for, let us say, everyday driving?
Does time spent behind the virtual wheel of a car turn you into a better driver? It could be argued that the soft skills that you develop when driving, lets say, your dream car Porsche 911 GT3 RS or your beloved enthusiast jdm cars in video games could make you into a better driver?
Another argument is that because video games are often not realistic, they could in fact make you a worse driver.
Let’s take a look at the experiments that have been undertaken with video games to find out how they affect the skills that you need for driving a real car.
Sharpening Cognitive Skills With Video Games
Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of research into video games and the effects that they have on people’s ability to do certain things. There is growing evidence that video games are helpful in improving cognitive skills.
When playing a game called NeuroRacer which had been specifically designed for the experiment, one study found that people aged 60-85 were better able to multitask.
Another study from the University of Rochester found that players who engaged in action-based video games could make faster decisions. Not only that, but they could also easily ignore any distractions from around them.
So, there are some benefits to playing video games. But can video games help drivers?
Experiments into Real-Life Driving and Video Games
In a study by researchers Maria Rita Ciceri and Daniele Ruscio of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, the skills of gamers were compared with the skills of experienced drivers to see whether video games that are available commercially are useful in training players to spot hazards quicker.
The research had an interest in the effect of video games on people who were non-drivers. The experiment aimed to look at whether the same visual search techniques were used between gamers and experienced drivers.
In a previous experiment, it was proved that non-drivers would keep a narrower focus on the road with their eyes and only look directly in front of them. Drivers with more experience would scan the entire road far ahead of themselves and be able to spot any potential hazards.
The skills that were needed to spot hazards and scan the road are something that can take hundreds of hours of driving experience to develop.
The hypothesis was that after spending considerable amounts of time driving in video games, players would develop similar visual search techniques that would be needed for road awareness.
The experiment consisted of 40 avid gamers who each spent on average 10-15 hours playing realistic driving games each week. Fifty percent of the gamers would have no driving experience while the other fifty percent would have at least five years experience.
In the lab, all of the participants were give foot pedals and a steering wheel. They were played a series of driving videos and were told to turn the wheel and control the vehicle as though they were driving the car in real life. A device was then used to track the eyes of the players to see where they were looking throughout the experiment.
The researchers wanted to see how much attention the non-drivers would pay to key areas such as intersections, stop signs, and how much attention they would pay to their mirrors.
After the experiment was completed, the outcome was that the gamers who had no experience driving exhibited the same type of limited visual search technique as a non-gamer who had no experience of driving a vehicle.
The data that came back from the eye-tracking devices of the gamers that were not experienced drivers in the real world showed that they were focused mainly on what was happening directly on the road in front of them. On the opposite end of the scale, the drivers that were experienced on the road showed much more movement in their eyes. When they were behind the wheel, their eyes darted around and went back and fore meaning they were taking in the entire road.
So, while it is evident that playing video games can sharpen up your skills by helping you focus, ignore distractions, and multitask, there is no evidence that playing driving games will make a gamer into a better driver. There is no better way to learn to drive a car than behind the steering wheel of the real thing and there is no alternative at the moment to gaining experience on the actual road.