Video games can act as a substitute for IQ tests

By TERESA NG | November 30, 2017

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Those who enjoyed Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction classic Ender’s Game may remember how the governments in Card’s futuristic world used computer simulation games to train the best and brightest children to beat an alien invasion.

While video games have not yet become of planet-saving import, researchers at the University of York have found that there is indeed a correlation between intelligence and being good at action strategy video games.

The researchers studied players who were proficient in popular multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBAs) and multiplayer first-person shooter games. MOBA, like the games of Card’s world, organize players into opposing teams that strategize against each other. First-person shooters, on the other hand, allow players to experience the game from the perspective of a particular character, whose actions they can control.

The MOBAs League of Legends and Dota 2 and first-person shooters Destiny and Battlefield 3 were chosen for study.

It was found that just as skill with older strategy games like chess is correlated with a high IQ, those who played League of Legends with finesse also performed well in traditional pen-and-paper tests of intelligence. Perhaps this should not be a surprise.

“[MOBA games] are complex, socially-interactive and intellectually demanding,” Athanasios Kokkinakis, a PhD student at York, said, according to ScienceDaily.

University of York Professor Alex Wade spoke to ScienceDaily about the additional benefits of these games.

“MOBAs rely more on memory and the ability to make strategic decisions taking into account multiple factors,” Wade said.

Performing well in games with such features would naturally correlate with higher intelligence.

However, this correlation has not been found with first-person shooter games.

In fact, the study showed that players of first-person shooter games often saw their proficiency at the game drop as they aged. Again, this is not surprising ­— speed and coordination rather than strategy are important in these games.

But what is exciting about these findings is their potential for future research. MOBAs are immensely popular and played by millions around the world. If these games can act as substitutes for IQ tests, researchers could potentially gather large amounts of data on intelligence at the global scale.

Such data would be valuable in studying the cognitive health of different populations. It would also be valuable in fields like cognitive epidemiology, which studies links between health, intelligence and psychology.

In short, while video games may not be saving the world, they are opening up fascinating new data sources for study — which may, in the end, amount to the same thing.

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