The great irony of my life is that people who knew me as a video-game obsessed child are shocked to learn that I grew up to become a surgeon, while the people who know me only as a surgeon are shocked to learn of my devotion to video games. While, for me, surgery is almost the logical conclusion of a life-time spent honing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination in front of my NES, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, Xbox and more. I get the same furrowed look on my brow as I fire off a head-shot in Gears of War or climb a tower in Catherine as I do when I dissect a gallbladder off of the liver. With the rising applicability of minimally invasive “laparoscopic” surgery, our instruments in the operating room are becoming more and more like a dualshock controller and less like a blade. But is there evidence that a young boy bred on Castlevania and the Legend of Zelda would make a better surgeon than a non-gamer?
In 2004, a well-publicized study out of Beth Israel Medical center in Manhattan found that surgeons who currently play video-games performed 40% better at laparoscopic suturing simulator than those who did not. Interestingly, even surgeons who had played videogames in the past but not presently, scored better than those who had never been a gamer. This suggests that gamers may develop a persistent muscle memory in fine motor ability that is applicable to other tasks that require manual dexterity, in this case, surgery. The authors of this study have gone so far as to implement videogames into their training course. When surgical residents and attending residents show up to train in laparoscopic suturing, they start their day with few rounds of Monkey Ball and Silent Scope to warm up. While this was a small study and one that should be taken cautiously, I can speak to my own experience as an avid gamer who had dedicated his life to operating in the sacred spaces of the human body.
Laparoscopic surgery is a form of surgery in which a camera is inserted through a small incision (frequently in the navel) and projects to several HD monitors that the operating surgeon can work with. Additionally, several other incisions allow the placement of other surgical instruments such as graspers or laparoscopic cautery. Laparoscopic surgery can be used for everything from removing an inflamed appendix or gallbladder, to very complex operations for colon or ovarian cancer. More than 2 million laparoscopic surgeries are performed in the United States every year. The benefit of laparoscopic surgery is it avoids large painful incisions and facilitates quicker post-operative recovery time, but it does demand highly specialized manual proficiency and higher-level spatial reasoning.
Do complex manual maneuvers projected onto an HD monitor sound familiar, it should if you are a gamer. Laparoscopic surgery often does seem to be a videogame with extremely high stakes. One of the great hurdles that surgical residents in training must overcome is the development of the spatial recognition required to translate three-dimensional movement of the hands onto a two dimensional screen. In this way, I do believe that the countless first person shooters, adventure platformers, and even good old fashioned Tetris games has aided me in learning to adapt to this task. If you have ever tried to place a ligated appendix or spleen in the retrieval bag using only a camera and a two-dimensional monitor for guidance, you will understand how challenging this task can be. It can be more difficult than Dark Souls.
I have found becoming a doctor and surgeon to be the ultimate expression of the creativity, problem solving, and hand-eye coordination that I developed as a boy, a teenager, and an adult who loves videogames. If any of the readers of GamerFitNation have ever curious about entering into any field of healthcare (maybe, those of you who have always played as a medic in Team Fortress?), I can promise you it is an extremely gratifying calling and should be encouraged. With that said, while I do like to lose myself at the end of a long day with Arkham City, wandering aimlessly around Skryim, or even decompressing with a quick round of Modern Warfare, it is important to always remember that human life is not a video game and that technical mistakes made in the operating room have far graver consequences than in Call of Duty. Because with human life and disease, there is often no “press X to respawn” and you sure dread the day that HD monitor displays a killcam.
If you have any questions or comments about surgery, video games or any health related topic, feel free to comment below or check out, Ask a Gamer Doc.