Audio

Researcher aims to make video games 'more meaningful'

A new study at Laurentian University has found that video games aren’t just mindless fun.

A researcher at Laurentian University in Sudbury is looking into what video games do to our brains

Brendan Lehman's research suggests the parts of the brain we use when we're physically active are the same parts that come to life when we're gaming. Lehman is conducting his research a Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Chris Berube/CBC)

A new study at Laurentian University has found that video games aren’t just mindless fun.

A neuroscience student said parts of the brain activated during physical activity are also stimulated during video games.

“I’ve been playing video games since I was a wee child,” Brendan Lehman explained. “It seemed logical to mix all the things I liked doing together.”

He said he hopes this research will help fight belief that video games can rot a person’s brain.

“They’ve been going for 30 years-plus now,” he said. “They’re still sort of stigmatized, because some of them are violent. It's another sort of misconception that certain media throw out to certain things they don't understand. When I talk about video games, it's like rock and roll in the 50s. And sure enough now, rock and roll is obviously widely accepted."

My idea is that video games add an extra layer because you're actually interacting with it.You're providing input to the system that can change the output of it.- Researcher Brendan Lehman

Scientists at York University have already determined that when people get engrossed in a movie or a book, their brain treats it as though they're actually participating.

Lehman said video games are even more intense.

"My idea is that video games add an extra layer because you're actually interacting with it," he said. "You're providing input to the system that can change the output of it."

Actions in games connected to real movement

For his research, Lehman recruited students who are good at the role-playing video game Skyrim.

While they’re on a computer — collecting scrolls and fighting dragons — Lehman measured their brain activity using a cap with sensors.

Lehman said his findings have been surprising so far, as he’s seen evidence that the part of the brain that lights up when a person is running or punching in real life becomes active when a player is running or punching in a game.

“That area of the brain is active when you get hit or you’re trying to move around,” he said. “You’re actually projecting your body image onto where your character is.”

For the second part of his thesis, Lehman hopes to develop his own game — one that actually promotes healthy brain activity.

"That's a big portion of why I do this research. To make video games better and to make them a more meaningful experience,"  he said.

Lehman will formally present his research next month. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.