Thoughts on: Kearney, P. (2005) Cognitive Callisthenics: Do FPS computer games enhance the player’s cognitive abilities?

Kearney, P. (2005) Cognitive Callisthenics: Do FPS computer games enhance the player’s cognitive abilities? Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views – Worlds in Play . Vancouver, BC: DiGRA


Kearney developed a highly quantified method for analysing the cognitive abiliities of subjects before and after they played the FPS game Counterstrike. This focussed primarily on multitasking. 

He used a “neuro-psychological assessment software package titled SynWin” test participant’s “ability to function in a synthetic work environment. Scores were recorded and after playing computer games for specified lengths of time, the participants were tested again.”

He cites a number of studies as the basis for this research:

  • Green and Bavelier [8] showed that benefits are gained from computer games, such as the enhancement of peripheral vision
  • “Okagaki and Frensch [12] used Tetris in their research; they found that spatial visualisation abilities were improved by college students after six hours of playing.
  • “Research done by De Lisi and Cammarano [4] showed the students improved their mental rotational skills playing a game called Block Out

(He doesn’t mention however whether these improved skills were retained by the people in the study or just encountered after playing the games. Presumably the studies themselves answer this question)

He draws on his own prior research to identify ways in which the players have to multitask during the game itself: “A typical first-person shooter involves controlling the player movement, aiming and firing the chosen weapon, evading being a target for other players, monitoring health status and ammunition supplies, and devising a seek and destroy strategy in order to complete the level. All this done in unison, in a pressure situation”

A control group took the SynWin test 3 times over a 2 hour period, the test group took the test at the beginning and end and played CounterStrike in between.

“The data from the output files also enabled the composite scores for the control group to be broken down into memory, mathematics, visual and auditory tasks. ” They showed small improvements between the three tests (except in auditory tasks) but “overall, the improvement over the three tests presented a P-value of > 0.3 , making the increases statistically insignificant”.

For the subjects that played CounterStrike, “the output in table shows statistical significance with P < 0.05.”

I don’t understand statistics but I’m will to take this guy at his word that the difference is significant and that “based on the recorded figures, the hypothesis that playing action computer games improves multitasking capabilities within the player is proven to be true”.

He only briefly refers to whether the players are experienced gamers, which would be helpful, mentioning that “all groups showed significant increases with the exception of those who play 13 to 16 hours per week”

It would be nice to know for these players whether they had higher than average multitasking abilities from the outset or whether there is a point at which gaming might decrease a player’s ability to improve this skill.

Other general observations (and perhaps speculations) that Kearney makes –

  • The immersive environment created by Counter-Strike captivated the attention of the players in group 2. The participants were completely focussed on the game and this concentration appeared to influence the results of the subsequent multitasking test”

Kearney recommends the development of software to test whether hand-eye coordination and attention span are also enhanced by gameplay.

This is a mildly interesting paper I wouldn’t say it’s overly thorough and I’d like to get into why cognitive skills are enhanced and particularly whether this is just a temporary effect.

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