When Greta and I met with her surgeon a few years back in preparation for a minor surgery, he offered an unusual qualification for the job: he was an avid video game player. He believed that playing video games improved his ability to perform surgery. Many surgeries are now performed remotely, with a very small incision and a video camera to monitor progress, and he claimed the skills involved weren’t much different from those he had acquired from years of zapping aliens on his TV.
Turns out, he was probably on to something. A new study has confirmed that surgeons who spend more time playing video games are faster and make fewer errors than those who spend less time with video games:
“Surgeons who had played video games in the past for more than three hours per week made 37 percent fewer errors [in the Top Gun course], were 27 percent faster and scored 42 percent better overall than surgeons who never played video games. Current video game players made 32 percent fewer errors, were 24 percent faster and scored 26 percent better overall than their non-player colleagues,” the authors write. Those in the top one-third of video gaming skill made 47 percent fewer errors, performed 39 percent faster and scored 41 percent better on the overall Top Gun score than those in the bottom one-third.
It’s not clear from this summary of the data whether the difference between current and past gaming behavior is significant, but it’s interesting to note that while past gamers were 42 percent better overall, current gamers were just 26 percent better. If this difference is statistically significant, it means the best surgeons were those who played in the past, but don’t play now.
The study authors speculate that training surgeons with video games might improve their skills. Another possibility, of course, is that people who like video games have innate skills that transfer well to surgery. Maybe instead of training surgeons with games, we need to recruit surgeons based on their skill level in World of Warcraft.