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Athletes, military find video games educational

Video games are rarely acknowledged as learning tools. But many of them are, in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

The concept holds no surprise for professional athletes and the military, who have long recognized the value of games for learning and recognizing strategies, and solving problems on the fly.

For example, peek inside the Steelers’ South Side practice facility, where the Sony PS2 and the latest version of Electronic Arts’ “Madden” titles are staples of recreation. Many Steelers spend hours playing the game to formulate a better understanding of both the Steelers’ own and opposition schemes. In fact, head coach Bill Cowher is a noted fan of the “Madden” series, and star players such as Joey Porter swear by it as a training tool for younger players and veterans alike.

Steven Johnson, author of “Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Pop Culture Is Actually Making You Smarter,” sees similar advantages in his own favorite sport.

“I play golf in real life, and golf simulations have gotten so good that I think there’s no question you can improve your game with them,” he says. “Especially if you’re playing one of the same courses that are in this game, because they map these courses’ topography down to the inch.

“So much of golf is visualization — the ability to stand over the ball and see the shot (especially in the short game), and if you’ve been playing one of these games, they simulate the physics of this world so well. If you play 10 hours of computer golf, and go out on the course, you’re definitely going to play better. There’s no question about it.”

The military, too, has developed video game-like simulators, training everyone from fighter pilots to infantry squad leaders in the latest tactics. “Full Spectrum Warrior,” based on one of the Army’s games, forces players to learn to use cover in an environment, move your squads in a coordinated fashion, and figure out the best route to the objective.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer Rob Rossi contributed to this report


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