According to a new study in the latest issue of Current Biology, action-packed videogames with absolutely no reading or linguistic elements whatsoever can actually improve the reading ability of children with dyslexia. Using Rayman Raving Rabbids as the game of choice, the study suggests that dyslexia not only effects the linguistic centers of the brain, but also areas of the brain which govern attention and motor skills as well.
"The claim that they help dyslexic kids read is very novel and quite counter to recent research on dyslexia—which is held to be a phonological disorder that makes kids have a hard time hearing the transitions between sounds in speech,” says James Gee, a psycholinguist at Arizona State University.
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder which affects the reading and writing abilities of individuals and usually lasts a lifetime. Common techniques to help children with the disorder involve attempting to teach them common spelling patterns through phonetics, though there is little evidence to show that this approach works.
It is believed that dyslexia affects motor co-ordination and attention areas of the brain - whereas most people can focus on a single word, blocking out any and all information around that word until it is read, dyslexics find it more difficult to achieve such focus, causing the words and letters to become jumbled.
In order to study the potential benefits that good old gaming might have, researchers took twenty 10-year old children diagnosed with dyslexia and had them play either mindless, bombastic action-packed segments of Rayman Raving Rabbids, or more low-key, action-free segments for 12 hours over 2 weeks.
When all was said and done, the kids who played the action-packed bits showed significant improvements to reading speed and accuracy "better than one year of schooling" according to study co-first author Simone Gori.
"That action video games train attention in ways that are directly transferable to such seemingly disparate tasks such as letter recognition is remarkable—and certainly goes against common public discourse that frequently positions games in competition with reading," says Constance Steinkuehler, a videogame researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
As cool as the idea that mindless blast-fests might be better for your kids' minds than we thought, James Gee notes the small sample size of the study. We're going to need a lot more kids playing mindless frag-fests for weeks on end before we can put this strain of research to bed.