How playing casual games could help lead to better soldiers

How playing casual games could help lead to better soldiers

PopCap-funded physiology studies lead to potential military applications.

  by         Dennis Scimeca         Oct 5 2013, 6:00pm +0300

When PopCap underwrote studies on the cognitive benefits of playing casual games with East Carolina University (ECU), it never imagined that the research would inspire the exploration of casual game projects for military use. But the principles PopCap helped examine in those studies are the basis for several projects which could lead to the development of new training aids and in-theater medical diagnostic tools for the United States Armed Forces. And it all began with a bit of fan appreciation.

Back in 2006, PopCap Senior Director of Public Relations Garth Chouteau decided to conduct an informal survey on why fans enjoyed PopCap games. “I started to receive the occasional e-mail or call from customers, and being the inquisitive PR person that I am, I would generally take that opportunity to ask them why they liked the games, what they liked about the games,” Chouteau told Ars. “After getting enough of those comments to the effect of ‘These games, they help me relax,’ ‘They seem to make my mind sharper,’ or ‘They provide some type of mental exercise,’ I said to myself, ‘We need to understand if this is broadly true. We need a bigger sample.’”

So PopCap hired a company called Information Solutions Group to conduct a formal survey of just over 1,000 customers, asking if they derived any benefits aside from entertainment out of playing PopCap games. “Stress relief was something that three-quarters or more, I think it was 77 percent specifically, chose,” said Chouteau. “And I believe it was 81 percent who cited cognitive exercise.”

PopCap then reached out to departments at multiple universities in the hopes of sponsoring a more rigorous study to understand these effects. Dr. Carmen Russoniello, professor and director of the Psychophysiology and Biofeedback Lab at East Carolina University, gave the most enthusiastic response. “He had a lot of experience in various types of recreational therapy, and he was intrigued by the idea,” said Chouteau.

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