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Video games as brain aerobics

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Yes, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is generally an intellectual black hole. (Check that metaphor: Can a black hole be shallow? After all, doesn't it, too, instantly narrow to a single teeny point?) But this piece by Brian C. Anderson extolling the mental health benefits of video games does provide some amusing and intriguing fodder for our neverending debate about games and art and the human brain:

Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways. I recently spent (too) many late-night hours working my way through "X-Men: Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse," a game I ostensibly bought for my kids. Figuring out how to deploy a particular grouping of heroes (each of whom has special powers and weaknesses); using trial and error and hunches to learn the game's rules and solve its puzzles; weighing short-term and long-term goals -- the experience was mentally exhausting and, when my team finally beat the Apocalypse, exhilarating.

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Technology writer Steven Johnson likens the intellectual process at work in video gaming to "the basic procedure of the scientific method." True, I might have better used my time reading Philip Roth's new novel, but as mind-aerobics this exercise surely beat watching the tube. As for my kids navigating the game, wouldn't it be comparable with their playing chess for hours?

A growing number of innovators recognize the intellectual benefits of gaming and seek to use video games for educational or therapeutic ends. The Serious Games Initiative, USA Today recently reported, got its start in 2002, when the U.S. Army released "America's Army," a free online game that allows players to "live" the Army. More than five million people have registered to play. Venture capital and philanthropic dollars are now pouring into Serious Games projects in health care, mathematics and government and corporate training. One encouraging early result is "Free Dive," a game that distracts children suffering from chronic pain or undergoing painful operations in real life with a calming underwater virtual reality.

And then there's this, the ultimate in video-game-into-movie marketing: Pac Man: The Movie.

(tips: Adam Keener, AS)

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