Can video games make you a better athlete?

For this blog I wanted to research the effects that video games have on athletes. I have played sports and video games since a very young age and have always believed that the two had no relation. Video games and real life sports are two different worlds and I grew up thinking that they had no correlation. The best way to get better at sports is to practice more and play video games less, but what if playing video games also helped you become a better athlete. Video games have not always been as popular or even existed as they are today, older athletes couldn’t play Madden or Call of Duty. Today’s athletes play video games more frequently than ever before and will be explained later in this blog. This post will explain the positive and negative effects that video games can have on sport performance.

Virtual Practice

Madden is a football video game that was first released in 1988 by Electronic Arts. (EA) They publish a new video game each year with new updates and game enhancements to make the game more and more realistic. Madden 17 compared to older versions makes it seem like it is a real football game rather than a video game. My mom once thought the Philadelphia Eagles were playing on our TV when it was just me playing Madden 15. The lifelike features are special but it is other aspects of the game which have an effect on players and athletes. According to a article one Pop-Warner 11-year-old player put his team’s real life offensive plays into Madden to help him remember them. “I programmed our offense into Madden to help me memorize our play… It was easier than homework.” he was quoted saying in the article. This young athlete was playing a video game and practicing for his real life football team at the same time. He could be playing as the Philadelphia Eagles but running the offense of his Pop-Warner team so he could better understand his offense and still be playing video games. Madden also uses each Professional Football team’s specific defensive and offensive plays which allows young athletes to understand and comprehend these dynamic offensive plays at an early age. The same goes with other sports games like NBA 2K, NHL, FIFA and MLB. These games provide young athletes the opportunity to learn new plays, techniques etc. at a very early age just from playing the video game and it has a positive effect on their understanding on their retrospective sport.

One of these images is from Madden 17 while the other is real, which one is real?


Physical Effects

Playing video games is usually associated with laziness and mountain dew drinking. Just like we discussed in class, basement dwelling, Doritos dust finger, overweight person. While that is the gamer stereotype there are many gamers who don’t fit this. Many professional athletes like to play video games in their free time. According to a 85% of NBA players are active gamers. NBA star Kevin Durant was quoted in the same article saying “If I’m not on the court, I’ve got a controller in my hand.” Many of the NBA players admitted to playing video games, mostly during the summer when they have more time but a lot still play during the season. Dwight Howard admitted to playing until 4-5 a.m. playing video games. If multiple NBA and other professional sports stars avidly game the question has to be asked, what are the physical or cognitive effects video games have on sporting performance. Certain games require quick thinking, good hand eye and multiple other skills. These are mostly action games like Halo, Call of Duty etc. which help to enhance your skills. A scholarly journal by Shawn Green and Aaron Seitz titled “The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and how the Government Can Guide the Industry)” went in depth about these effects from action games. In one of the first paragraphs of the journal they say “Modern video games have evolved into sophisticated experiences that instantiate many principles known by psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators to be fundamental to altering behavior, producing learning, and promoting brain plasticity.”  They argue that properly designed video games can alter the brains behaviors and actions. Certain games can have different effects weather it enhances perceptual skills, attention skills or cognitive as they state in the journal. These results were found from just action games. The article also talks about other types of video games and their physical effects. They had some similar effects but mostly enhanced memory and multi-tasking abilities.

Gaming and Reaction Time

One of the major factors in First Person Shooter (FPS) and action games is reaction time. When you see an enemy whoever has the quicker reaction time usually gets the advantage but accuracy is just as important. Reaction time is a key component to being a good gamer, slow reaction time usually means more deaths and a negative Kill/Death ratio. Sijang Wu and Ian Spence conducted a study at the University of Toronto on reaction time of gamers vs non-gamers. One of their test methods was a Classic Visual search which means, “participants see an array of bars and report whether or not a target bar is present. The target and distractor bars may differ in color or orientation only (feature search), or they may differ in both color and orientation (conjunction search). During feature search, the target usually has the highest activation in the simple search array and “pops out,” with attention being efficiently guided to the target. On the other hand, during conjunction search, the target may not be the item with the highest activation.” (Wu, Spence 2013). They did accuracy and speed tests for the players vs. non players and while accuracy was the same the players speed was faster than non.

Below is a graph of results  from Wu and Spence’s study 

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 5.36.44 PM.png

Quicker reaction time in sports is just as crucial as it is in video games. In baseball it takes a 95 MPH fastball .395 seconds to reach the batter, which is faster than the blink of an eye (.400 seconds) as seen in the sports science video below. They also did another study where they selected 30 new participants who had no video game experience in the previous 3 years and conducted the same tests. The participants then played FPS, Driving games and 3D puzzle games for 10 hours and did the same tests before playing these games for ten hours. The results from this shocked me and were the most interesting part of my research. They report that participant’s reaction time was faster after play the games from 589 milliseconds to 535 milliseconds. (Wu, Spence 2013) The journal did not specify if they were athletes or not but if it worked on those who participated for only 10 hours, an athlete who plays video games for longer would likely see similar results to their reaction time during sports. If this progression happened from just 10 hours, someone who plays more often than that like Dwight Howard would probably have a larger result. It may only be a couple hundred or so milliseconds but that can make a big difference depending on the situation.



The results from the study and multiple scholarly articles show that playing FPS can increase reaction time and other aspects of cognition. Athletes who play action video games often would probably have quicker reaction time than athletes who do not. I believe as an athlete that all my years of growing up playing video games until 4 a.m. have helped me become a better athlete. Obviously you wouldn’t be a good athlete by just playing video games, physical aspects and being in shape also play a key role. But the findings from researching this topic show that video games can in face make you a better athlete. Being the best Call Of Duty player in the world doesn’t mean you are as good at Basketball as LeBron James, but video games have an effect on certain aspects of games. Reaction time is a major part of video games as well as sports and the results don’t lie, playing FPS, action and driving games can make your reaction speed quicker.

Works Cited


Green, C. S., and A. R. Seitz. “The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and How the Government Can Guide the Industry).” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2.1 (2015): 101-10. Web.

Wu S, Spence I. “Playing shooter and driving videogames improves top-down guidance in visual search. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics [serial online]”. May 2013;75(4):673-686. Available from: MEDLINE Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 25, 2016.

Elisabeth Hayes & Lauren Silberman (2007) “Incorporating Video Games into Physical Education, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance,” 78:3, 18-24, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.2007.10597984

Dye, M.w.g., C.s. Green, and D. Bavelier. “The Development of Attention Skills in Action Video Game Players.” Neuropsychologia 47.8-9 (2009): 1780-789. Web.






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