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It’s a common adage that video games aren’t a “healthy” choice for kids and adults, but scientists in Rome have found picking up the remote of a Nintendo Wii can actually promote fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, even among surgeons.

What's the Deal?

The study tested the aptitude of surgeons performing laparoscopy and found that students who practiced with a Nintendo Wii regularly over multiple sessions improved their ability to operate two instruments and manipulate objects more than 80 percent, compared to the control group’s 20 percent, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The study attributed this result to the promotion of “perceptual learning,” or the ability to focus, through multiple trials, on certain stimuli while ignoring others to reach the desired goal. Games can reproduce this perceptive learning environment to effectively train surgeons to use their own fine motor skills better, helping them focus on even smaller movements and finite gestures. Specifically, it helps doctors get over the difficult hurdle of performing 3D actions with only a 2D view (laparoscopies or usually performed with the aid of a camera and digital display).

It’s important to note that the study did not let the Wii users train with a direct surgery simulator. Instead, they played the tennis portion Wii Sports, a game that comes standard with every Wii.

Why It Matters

It’s not advisable to relinquish daily surgical training for video game sessions, but it does suggest there are more benefits to playing games than entertainment value. A slew of fitness-minded games have tried to bridge the gap between real world fitness and digital fun. This study, albeit small, is one of the first to offer some evidence.

Secondly, this study shows that video games have a remarkable way of training the mind, which can lead to better overall function of the body. The doctors who practiced with the Wii were able to visualize field of depth and operate in kind, improving their hand-eye coordination and perception abilities. These skills are transferable to all manner of real world fitness goals, though we wouldn't recommend trying out for the tennis team if all you've played is Wii Sports. This is not the first time, however, that games have helped create real-world skills with even the military using games to train soldiers. This is also not the first time that games — in particular the Nintendo Wii — has been used to test laparoscopic surgeons. Another study from 2010 found that surgeons who trained with the game system performed with fewer errors, better movement, and increased ambidexterity Design, development, and validation of a take-home simulator for fundamental laparoscopic skills: using Nintendo Wii for surgical training. Bokhari, R., Bollman-McGregor, J., Kahoi, K., et al. Phoenix Integrated Surgical Residency. The American Surgeon, 2010 Jun;76(6):583-6 . (Sorry PlayStation and Xbox fans, much of the benefit was derived from the motion-based controls most associated with the Wii.)

Greatist did some extra digging to see if video games can make a better, fitter you. While games can't substitute a full workout, they are a totally legitimate and useful fitness tool.

Is It Legit?

For all of its promising language, the study doesn’t outright recommend wholesale replacement of laparoscopy simulators with Wiis in every hospital breakroom. Instead, there’s a strong recommendation that regular practice during home or personal use could produce the same impressive results. The study itself, though promising, also only refers to laparoscopy, which now relies heavily on digital screens and cameras — similar to a video game. It should also be noted that general performance was expected to increase, though the video game group far outpaced their control group counterparts.

Still, the study is some proof that certain video games aren’t without physical merit, now if only the actual Doctor Mario was part of the curriculum...

Would you feel better if your doctors said they played video games? Would you ever incorporate a video game into a training session? Let us know in the comments below.

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