Rhythm games: good workout for esports players and seniors

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Rhythm games can improve the attention function of gamers, especially those who frequently play games. This was inferred from a recent study conducted by two Japanese researchers, Assistant Professor Goich Hagiwara and Research Assistant Saori Kihara, from Kyushu Sangyo University.

This study is now published in the Digital Life Diary, a new multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed, open-access online journal based in Japan. At a time when esports has become popular around the world, rhythm games could be a welcome addition to the workout routine of enthusiastic gamers.

Game consoles at an esports hotel in Osaka. (Sankei)

Popularity of esports

Electronic sports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competition using video games. They include first-person shooters (FPS), racing games, online card games, and many other categories. The global population of esports players is said to be over 100 million.

The establishment of the Japan eSports Union (JeSU) in 2018 was the first step in Japan to provide an enabling environment for the development of esports. Now, the category will be an official medal event at the Asian Games in September 2022.

Growing expectations

The Japanese government has also attempted to incubate the esports industry. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has focused on the esports market as a new growth area in the online content industry. At the same time promoted academic research to clarify the effect of esports on health and education.

Growing expectations for the new industry were in the background of the new study. Researchers were looking for another area where video games could be used beyond recreation. They focused on the effect of rhythm games, a genre of music-themed action video games, on attention function.

Players competing for higher scores tap or drag markers on a screen at the right time. Everything is in time with the music or the rhythm, for example.

Dr. Hagiwara chose rhythm games for research among various video game genres for a reason. In fact, several professional esports players say they play rhythm games before training or competition to improve their physical and mental abilities. Hagiwara specifically referred to a popular professional esports player of the FORTNITE shooter, who claims to be warming up with the rhythm game Osu! before starting the esports game.

Differences in execution time between first and second TMT according to age. The higher the value on the vertical axis, the faster the TMT execution time. (c) Digital Life Log

How it works

Previous research by Dr. Hagiwara involving 10 male college students who frequently play games found that attention function was significantly improved after playing Osu!. The new research therefore attempted to clarify the effect on attention function across a wider range of age groups.

To assess attention function, the study used the Trail Making Test (TMT). Generally, TMT is divided into two parts: Part A and Part B. Part A uses 25 digits (1 to 25), while Part B uses 13 digits (1 to 13) and 12 letters of the English alphabet (A to L). Numbers and letters are randomly placed on a paper.

In Part A, participants draw lines to connect 1 to 25 in sequential order as quickly as possible. In part B, they do the same by alternating numbers and letters, as in 1-A-2-B-3…

In both parts A and B, the time required to complete the procedure is measured. The shorter the time, the higher the participant’s attention function. It measures number and character recognition, visual exploration, speed of eye and hand movement, speed of information processing, flexibility of mental activity and motor functions.

Apply the test to real people

Study participants included 16 healthy adult men between the ages of 20 and 50. They took the Japanese version of TMT, which uses Japanese hiragana characters instead of English letters.

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their demographics, frequency of play, previous experience playing Osu! and their mood. Then they carried an electroencephalogram (EEG) for 2 minutes, followed by taking the TMT and reading Osu! for 10 minutes (4 sets).

After completing the round, they immediately took a TMT and reported their post-test mood on the scale indicated by the questionnaire.

Data were analyzed focusing on age and gambling frequency factors, using IBM SPSS Statistics (version 26.0).

E-Sports at Tokyo Game Show 2018.

What the results show

The analysis showed that older people may have faster TMT execution time than younger people. According to the report, “The effect of games on attention function was greater in older people than in younger people, suggesting that games may improve attention function in older people.”

The report also notes: “This is a new finding, as to our knowledge there are no studies comparing different age groups.

Participants’ gambling frequency was categorized into three groups.

  • High frequency: Those who play games every day,
  • Medium frequency: those who occasionally play games, and
  • Low frequency: people who play rarely or not at all.

The research results specifically showed that the TMT execution time became faster in the subjects in the high frequency group after playing Osu!. On the other hand, the running time of the TMT became slower after the rhythm game in the subjects in the mid and low frequency groups. This suggests that effects on attention function may differ depending on the frequency of games.

The bottom line, however, is that the study infers that rhythm games can be a useful training tool for game users due to the positive effect on frequent gamers’ attention function.

It also suggests that rhythm games have potential as a health promotion tool for older adults.

Sankei Biz is a Japanese-language publication of Sankei Shimbun focusing on business and economics. Digital Life Diary is its Japan-based, peer-reviewed, open-access, English-language online journal targeting the digital technology audience.

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Author: Ken Saito

(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)

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