It's a no-brainer that games like Dance Dance Revolution can do wonders in combating our country's growing youth obesity epidemic. But can rhythm-action games also help children improve cognitive skills like reading comprehension and concentration?
Former Florida teacher Judy Shasek would likely answer that question with an emphatic yes. With the help of a $125,000 sponsorship from RedOctane, Shasek has integrated games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero and accessories like the X-Board into the curricula at three test schools around the country for the past three years. The results, Shasek said in a presentation at the Serious Games Summit, mirror the results of numerous academic studies that show 10 minutes of aerobic activity before a test can be more helpful than 20 minutes of tutoring, and that replacing four hours per week of class time with physical education helps standardized test scores go up.
What's more, playing rhythm games leads to improved algebra skills, Shasek says, and reading fast-moving notes in games like DDR helps train children's eyes for reading text. No ones really sure why these games have the cognitive effects that they do, but the working theories involve increased oxygenation to the brain and hidden, unlocked power in the cerebellum, the brain's motion and balance center. Whatever the science, Shasek says introducing the games also has fringe benefits like decreased absenteeism and improved attentiveness among students.
Shasek is hoping to expand her program to teachers and schools across the country through her web site, Generation Fit, which includes some great videos of students getting their dance on. She's also trying to expand the benefits to the adult workplace with Revive! Nation, a program focused on adding rhythm games to break/lunch rooms. With physical activity on the decline among kids and adults, we can only say more power to her.