Gamers just as easily distracted as other drivers


Across our fair town and fine province, it’s an issue. St. Albert has slapped more than 175 people in the last year with tickets for distracted driving. According to Alberta Transportation, distracted driving is involved in up to 30 per cent of all collisions and distracted drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a crash.

But those of us of with gaming blood are no mere mortals. We thrive on chaos, rising to whatever occasion the virtual world throws our way. When we are pinned by sniper fire, with the grinding rumble of tanks drawing ever closer and the sordid cry of infantry on our flank, we sound our barbaric yawp and fight through.

Wouldn’t it make sense, given our years of practice, that gamers would either be immune to distractions while driving or at least be less susceptible?

Sorry to be the harsh bearer of reality, my gaming brethren, but a study conducted at the Visual Cognition Laboratory at Duke University revealed that gamers are just as susceptible to driving distractions as anyone else.

Sixty undergraduates were involved in performing three different tasks. The first was the PC driving game TrackMania, complete with steering wheel and pedals. A virtual find-the-peanut-under-the-shell game made up the second task, one designed to focus on visual tracking. The final task was a pencil-and-paper hidden object activity from the children’s magazine Highlights Magazine. While performing these tasks, subjects were required to answer Trivial Pursuit questions over a speakerphone, to simulate a conversation on a cellphone over Bluetooth.

The results aren’t much of a surprise. In all cases, performance on the three tasks was diminished by distractions. By requiring the participants to think and verbally respond during the tasks, track scores became longer, visual tracking diminished, and hidden objects stayed hidden longer.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the gamers among us. Gamers in the group did perform better than the non-gamers on the driving game. Though distracted, gamers’ performance on the game-related task was less hindered by distractions, they certainly weren’t entirely immune to the effects of talking while performing. In the other two tasks, there was no difference between gamers and non-gamers.

The results from this study also need to be taken with a grain of salt. There was a grave assumption in the design of the study: they used a speakerphone as a source of distraction. Not holding a phone. Not texting. Not searching the Internet. To be honest, when I think of distracted driving, the last on the list are drivers having conversations over Bluetooth. The real culprits are those who text while driving. I can only imagine the results during the driving game segments if test subjects were required to text in their responses.

While gaming can improve our decision-making, reflexes, and contrast perception, it seems that when we buckle up, all those hours playing Call of Duty fall by the wayside. So put down the phone, turn off the Bluetooth, and for the love of all that is good in our world, stop texting while driving. It doesn’t matter who you are – young or old, gamer or non-gamer, quick-glance texter or Siri-user – it will eventually catch up with you. And when it does, a ticket will be the least of your worries.

When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.


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