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msnbc.com

Several hundred hours a week spent wasting aliens or Nazis or aliens with Nazi tendencies is actually good for the kids. So says a new study at the University of Rochester linking fans of first-person shooting games to superhuman visual skills such as advanced peripheral vision.

THE FUTURE LOOKS bright. With his improved visual acuity, little Johnny will never want for a job as a parking lot security guard.

Of course, analysts linked this new-found visual edge to a promising future in the military. And you thought that video games didn’t lead to violence.

Are the new findings true? As far as we in the media are concerned, who cares? Receiving a press release detailing the latest study on video gaming is like manna; we can feed on its findings for days. Throw in the conclusions, a couple quotes and voila — instant controversy.

Battle of the game studies

The Rochester study is only the latest in a long, long line of academic papers promoting video gaming. Back in the Atari 2600 days, researchers touted the hand-eye coordination of gamers to such an extent that it appeared as if an entire generation had inherited a mutant chromosome for the benefit of mankind.

As games grew more sophisticated, so did the studies. Entire university programs and Web sites, such as GameStudies, grew to document the positive impact of video gaming. Games, we were told, encouraged imagination, role playing, cooperation and problem solving.

And for every study promoting positive impacts, others came out equating games with a darker side.

First we were told young people had lost their ruddiness, turning into a generation of pasty-faced zombies.

In the early 1990s, the public discovered “Mortal Kombat,” the ultra-violent fighting game series where gamers were encouraged to “Finish him” through creative dismemberment. Politicians joined some psychologists in criticizing video games. Then it was revealed that the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre played “Doom,” and it seemed to be all over. Studies linking games to violence flooded the media.

If the fervor surrounding reports on gaming means anything, it’s that parents are concerned. They want to be reassured that their children’s interaction with video games will not turn them into jobless, murderous zombies. Every time a positive report enters the media stream, you can almost hear suburbia breathe a collective sigh of relief.

WHO CARES?

So now we’re back to a positive report on video games.In the days ahead, gaming magazines and Web sites will use the visual skills findings to tout yet another justification for all things interactive.

Advertising visionaries will think of new ways to tap into gamer’s new found visual skills to push product. Meanwhile, another set of psychologists or politicians will be planning to release a new study linking games to violence.

Is this getting too cynical? Here are my unscientific findings. The main product of game play is fun. Because when you dig down deep enough, what else is there to go on?

Or as Newsweek’s Michael Rogers explained in his Weblog, while a chimpanzee inundated with a chimp-friendly video game would come out with better visual skills — “at the end of the day you’d still have a chimpanzee.”

When not babbling about computer games, Tom Loftus produces interactives for MSNBC.com

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