I Live in the Future and Here's How it Works, by Nick Bilton: an exclusive Boing Boing excerpt

Excerpted from I Live in the Future and Here's How it Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain are Being Creatively Disrupted @ 2011 by Nick Bilton. Reprinted by Permission of Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Does Your Surgeon Play Video Games?

The next time you have surgery, ask your surgeon if he or she played video games in the past.

A few years ago, researchers quizzed more than thirty surgeons and surgical residents on their video- game habits, identifying those who played video games frequently, those who played less frequently, and those who hardly played at all. Then they put all the surgeons through a laparoscopic surgery simulator, in which thin instruments akin to extremely long chopsticks are inserted into one or more small incisions through the skin along with a small camera that is inserted into an additional small opening. Minimally invasive surgery like this frequently is used for gallbladder removal, gynecologic procedures, and other procedures that once involved major cutting and stitching and could require hours on an operating table.

The researchers found that surgeons or residents who used to be avid video game players had significantly better laparoscopic skills than did those who'd never played. On average, the serious game players were 33 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer errors than their colleagues who didn't have prior video- game experience.

The more video games the surgeons had played in the past, the better their numbers. This wasn't tested on a group of kids who played twelve hours of video games a day and hadn't showered in weeks. These residents and practicing surgeons simply played three or more hours of action video games a week. Some of the more advanced video- game- playing students managed to make 47 percent fewer errors than others and were able to work as much as 39 percent faster.

The results were surprising given the criticism video games have received for rotting young minds, turning upstanding youngsters into juvenile delinquents, and just wasting time. Instead, surgeons and researchers have begun to test whether the games should be a key part of a future surgeon's education, since speed and accuracy are crucial to conquering the learning curve associated with using laparoscopic techniques to perform delicate procedures. Game skill, the researchers theorized, could translate into surgical skill and help cut "medical errors," which have become the eighth leading cause of death in this country.

A couple of years ago, a researcher at Arizona State University tried this out on surgeons at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, using a Wii golf club that was reshaped into a laparoscopic probe. One group of residents played a suite of games called Wii Play and a game that involves subtle hand movements, Marble Mania, using the probe, while another group didn't. The game players showed 48 percent more improvement in performing a simulated laparoscopic procedure compared with those who didn't play.

But not every game helps surgeons improve their skills. It turns out that Wii's Marble Mania stimulates the areas of the brain needed for surgery. Games such as Wii Tennis, where you swat your arms in the air as though you were hitting a virtual ball, did not help surgeons' scores. But many studies have found that even limited practice on video games may increase speed and skill in surgery.

It's no surprise, of course, that dexterity improves with practice. But what makes these studies stand out is how effectively human brains can make the leap to conquering new technologies and then putting those new skills to use in innovative and varied ways. For example, these studies consistently show that playing video games improves hand- eye coordination and increases one's capacity for visual attention and spatial distribution, among other skills. These increased brain functions are tied not only to game play but to several other real- world scenarios, including surgery.

You may feel like your brain cannot cope with so much information or jump seamlessly from one medium to another, just as you may have felt in high school that you couldn't learn a foreign language or conquer higher math.

But as the brain faces new language (or acronyms and abbreviations), new visual and auditory stimulation, or new and different ways of processing information, it can change and grow in the most remarkable fashion. In fact, it may well be a natural part of human behavior to seek out and develop unnatural new experiences and technologies and then incorporate them into our daily lives and storytelling.

Buy I Live in the Future and Here's How it Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain are Being Creatively Disrupted from Amazon.com

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  1. Everyone, say it with me together now: Correlation does not imply causation, Correlation does not imply causation, Correlation does not imply causation, Correlation does not imply causation…..

    It’s perfectly plausible, in fact very likely that the sort of surgeons attracted to playing video games in the first place *because* they had better hand eye coordination. Lot’s of future surgeons tried playing video games once, the ones with the best hand eye coordination got the positive feedback to encourage them to continue playing.

    1. Did you read the whole thing?

      A couple of years ago, a researcher at Arizona State University tried this out on surgeons at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, using a Wii golf club that was reshaped into a laparoscopic probe. One group of residents played a suite of games called Wii Play and a game that involves subtle hand movements, Marble Mania, using the probe, while another group didn’t. The game players showed 48 percent more improvement in performing a simulated laparoscopic procedure compared with those who didn’t play.

      Even still, “playing video games makes you better at things that are substantially similar to video games” is hardly a surprising conclusion. It probably turns out people who can drive cars are better at driving trucks than people who can’t drive either.

      1. No I didn’t read the whole thing but I agree with you.  Either way it’s hardly a “wonderful thing”.

    2. Correlation does not imply causation… but it does point its finger and waggle its eyebrows suggestively.

      The whole correlation does not mean causation thing gets trotted out way too frequently. And often get present in such a way as to imply that correlation somehow makes causation less likely.

      1. Well it certainly does in cases like this where there is something so obvious to account for it.

    1. Whoa, that jangled a neuron or two, is that from a text game named “pyramid” that came out for the TRS 80 in the mid cretaceous? Up-right-right-up wasn’t it?

  2.  Damn the irony!  I’ve always been a natural when it comes to video games, but the sight of a surgical operation makes me cringe and the blood seems to drain from my hands as I lose all dexterity in my fingers.  Life’s cruel jokes…

    1. Watch a show like Nip/Tuck, where they play classical music during the surgery scenes, helping to change the emotional response to surgery and blood.

  3. implying video games are the ultimate test of hand-eye coordination.

    I’d prefer a surgeon that can draw as well or better than I.  better yet a sculptor, or plays a musical instrument.  anyone can rot their minds compulsively playing vidya.  that doesn’t mean I want him poking into me, though I’ll concede it’s better practice than nothing.

    the sad part is the research pool of surgeons that do anything with their hands OTHER than play videogames is probably nil comparatively.  there was a time when surgical techniques were akin to butchery while those considered best-educated had a solid art background.

    yeah, sour grapes.  i know i’m the minority in our time, on the internet, and on BB; but I think vidya–while it has a legitimate amount of importance from a tech standpoint–is hugely overrated, and this research just legitimizes separating oneself from the reality that is really important for a surgeon to be adept at working in.

    1.  While I agree that it might be silly to compare surgery and video games (and for me this type of info falls under more of the novelty/entertainment category), I resent the idea that my mind has “rotted” simply because I played “vidya.”

  4. Years ago, a retired Air Force officer told me he volunteered to take his son’s Cub Scout pack to visit an Air Base and to try the F-15 simulator. He required every father attend though.
    Almost every Cub Scout was able to take off, shoot down at least one “bogey” and land the “jet”.
    Few of the fathers could get the “jet” off the ground and those that did were shot down.
    He attributed it to growing up with video games and controllers compared to growing up with traditional eye hand coordinating activities like baseball.

  5. My local library has a copy of this book, copyright 2010.  Do you get a new copyright when you excerpt?  Was there minor editing?  I’m genuinely curious.

  6. Eventually they will come up with a nanoscopic Pac-Man to clean out our pipes.  When that happens, it might be wiser to have a video game champ control that Pac-Man than it would an over-educated person who is only guessing and applying theory and can’t wash a wine glass without breaking it.  But I believe that someone who knows the underlying structure by heart would be preferable to someone with video game-enhanced reaction times.  They just as well could have told us that 100% of jet fighter pilot/brain surgeons are better at brain surgery than 100% of fighter pilots who are not brain surgeons.  Or brain surgeons who are not fighter pilots.  When my speed increases with the guitar, it happens on the computer keyboard as well.  And vice versa.  Secondary and tertiary hobbies usually do increase the level of competency in one’s primary function.  We did not need yet another study to tell us this.

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