#3. A Web Browser Game Helps Explore the Universe
Studies show that 90 percent of modern computing serves one of two purposes: procrastinating and masturbating, or both at the same time (procrasturbating). With regard to computer games, people mostly play them for the procrastination part. That, and seeing their names on those awesome leaderboards so that they can show off their achievements to their fellow nerds.
That means that there's a whole population of gamers whose defining characteristics are that they have nothing but time on their hands and that they desperately want to stand out among their peers. The folks over at Yale and Oxford universities recognized this tidbit and had a light bulb moment. They realized they could harness all those readily available man-hours and use them for something constructive that, quite frankly, is also a tedious pain in the ass: searching the universe for new planets.
Level 1. GO!
The scientists at Yale and Oxford devised a Web browser game called Planet Hunters in which a player looks at computer data depicting a star's light output, then records when there's a dip in luminosity. Less light might mean that a planet was passing in front of the star, so when a gamer says that there's a dip in light, he records it, and someone with a big-ass telescope and fancy computers checks out the area. If it turns out that it was a planet that caused the dimming, the lucky interstellar Marco Polo could get credit for the planet's discovery, and might get their name written in any subsequent papers about it.
Clicking the "Finish" button throws you directly into the gun battles and hardcore anime porn.
And hey, guess what? The geniuses behind Planet Hunters totally called it right. Just one month after the game was released, players discovered two planets lurking about in the cosmos. It turns out that getting your name written in a spiffy scientific paper and potentially having your moniker forever be associated with the discovery of a planet were good motivations for getting gamers to spend hundreds of hours looking at their computer monitors and examining little light dots. You can even enable the players' already-inflated egos by clicking here and checking out the paper on the discovered planets, where each gamer is given the fitting title of Planet Hunter.
"This doesn't make sense. They're ... destroying them."
#2. Video Games Help Stroke Victims Recover
Look, we know video games aren't exactly good for you -- they're linked to an increased chance of obesity, which is itself linked to an increased occurrence in several debilitating medical conditions, including stroke. But operating off the same logic that led to Michael Vick working with the Humane Society, science is redeeming video games by putting them to work helping stroke victims.
Except for the part where it's not a desperate PR move.
Recovering from a stroke can be a long, tedious nightmare; it can take years, as many people have to relearn basic, everyday skills while still recovering from extensive neurological damage. Current recovery programs involve exercises like picking up buttons or shifting your weight from one side to another.
However, these exercises have two shortcomings. The first is that they only help in one area of recovery, usually stimulating your mind or your muscles, but rarely both. The second is that they're boring as hell, and thus easy to quit. Video games to the rescue!
"Oh my God, why do you have to be such a noob? Gimme the fucking handle!"
Researchers found that stroke patients who played video games on either a Nintendo Wii or a Sony PlayStation were up to five times more likely to show improvements in arm motor function compared to patients just undergoing standard therapy. One reason for this is that playing video games provides both physical and mental stimulation.
Another reason is that, unlike perpetually crumpling pieces of paper, the action in video games is always changing. This requires the user to constantly adapt and change strategies, which helps heal the patients' brains by augmenting neuroplasticity. Which is a good thing.
Unless it's Duke Nukem Forever, in which case it would just prompt another stroke.
#1. Video Games Are Creating a Race of Master Surgeons
Tony Hansberry, like most 14-year-olds, hasn't spent a decade in medical school, but probably has spent that much time in front of an Xbox. Unlike most 14-year-olds, Hansberry put his gaming skills to work by advancing medical science.
For his high school science fair project, Hansberry unveiled a new procedure for stitching up patients after surgery, probably making his classmates feel like a bunch of worthless dicks (symbolized by their flaccid papier-mache volcanoes).
"Nice shell collection, Jimmy. Now fuck off before I beat you for being an embarrassment."
At issue was a surgical device called the endo stitch, which surgeons use to sew up patients after a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). This device was supposed to close the tube where the patient's uterus had been, but often failed to clamp down, leading to a troubling problem doctors refer to as "Getting your ass sued off."
Tony came up with a radically new procedure, which involved sewing up the patients with a vertical endo stitch instead of a horizontal one. Though this sounds simple, it actually radically alters the endo stitch procedure and requires a lot more coordination. You have to guide a camera inside the patient, while manipulating the tool with a controller ...
"Oh, man, my bad. Can I get a res here?"
You can see where this is going. The teenager had invented (and performed, on dummies) a technique that required more precise hand-eye coordination than most adults could manage. Doctors say the action required is identical to the "training" Tony was getting playing video games his whole life. It was like Luke being able to hit the Death Star's weak spot because he had spent his youth shooting womp rats for fun.
The doctors were so impressed with Tony's surgical work on the test dummies that they tested it out in patients. The result: It reduced recovery time, complications and pain.
"Just sending you a quick hysterectomy app. If you get a request from Titman Buttford, accept it."
So the next generation of surgeons will not only be highly skilled, but also be able to maintain concentration even when someone's yelling "Your mom's a whore!"
You can hire Eddie to write something for you by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can watch his newest short film here. You can contact Michael Cooney at Mikey.Cooney@gmail.com for writing opportunities.
For more on video games, check out 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted. Or learn about the 8 Creepy Video Game Urban Legends (That Happen to Be True).