Case Study: Improving Focus with Video Games

The following case study is an example of the ways that video games can exercise Focus skills. The story itself is a variation of one or more patients I have worked with during my years in private practice. Names, places, and other identifying details have been altered or removed.

Emma, a 10 year old 4th grader, is a big NASCAR fan. She loves watching the Sprint Cup Series on television (or better yet live) with her dad. She can tell you all about her favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and can recite the car numbers for the top drivers. Another one of her favorite things is playing the games from the “Need for Speed”  video game series. When she’s playing these racing games, she’s intense, focused, and very competitive with her siblings.

Her mother attempted to play the game with her and her brothers one day. She found it was very difficult. She kept crashing even when she tried to drive her car slowly. Not only did she discover  that she was not noticing the dangers present on the track, but she could not pay attention to the other drivers as she was driving herself. After playing the game she mentioned to Emma how she couldn’t keep focused on all the different things going on with the game because they were moving too fast for her and that after a while, she simply got tired of trying. Emma was surprised because paying sustained, focused attention to racing games is almost second nature to her. This type of focus is in direct contrast to what she experiences when it comes to sustaining her attention and effort to the schoolwork that she needs to complete.

Many parents observe that their children are able to focus with video games but may not be able to do so when it comes to doing their homework or less interesting tasks. Most of the time, it is not just a matter of effort. In addition to video games being engaging, multi-modal activities, they also teach players where and how they need to attend in order to be successful.

The key to helping kids transfer their attentional skills and focus with video games to other tasks is to help them to identify some of the individual focusing strategies that they’re using in the game. These can include:

  • Getting started without procrastination.
  • Pay attention to what’s important, while ignoring unessential details.
  • Sustaining the energy to maintain focus until a task is complete.

There are also many well-respected studies that have described how simply playing action based games such as racing games can improve attentional skills involving selective attention and visual attention. There is also increasing evidence that this type of improvement can transfer from video games to other tasks. While we do not suggest a play diet of hours of action-based video games to improve your child’s attention, you might want to direct your child with focusing difficulties towards these games.

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