NEW YORK — You're at the front lines shooting Nazis before they shoot you. Or you're a futuristic gladiator in a death match with robots.
Either way, you're playing a video game — and you might be improving your vision and other brain functions, according to research presented last week at a New York University conference on games as a learning tool.
"People that play these fast-paced games have better vision, better attention and better cognition," said Daphne Bavelier, an assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester.
Bavelier was a presenter at Games for Learning, a daylong symposium on the educational uses of video games and computer games.
The event, the first of its kind, was an indication that electronic games are gaining legitimacy in the classroom.
President Barack Obama recently identified the creation of good educational software as one of the "grand challenges for American innovation," and the federal Department of Education's assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton, attended Thursday's conference.
Panelists discussed how people learn and how games can be engineered to be even more educational.
Bavelier's research has focused on first-person shooter games including Unreal Tournament and Medal of Honor, in which the player is an Allied solder during World War II.
Bavelier said playing the kill-or-be-killed games can improve peripheral vision and the ability to see objects at dusk, and the games can even help treat amblyopia, or lazy eye, a disorder characterized by indistinct vision in one eye.
She said she thinks the games can improve math performance and other brain tasks.
"We are testing this hypothesis that when you play an action video game, what you do is you learn to better allocate your resources," she said. "In a sense you learn to learn. ... You become very good at adapting to whatever is asked of you."
Bavelier thinks the games will eventually become part of school curriculums, but "it's going to take a generation."
Not everyone is a fan.
Gavin McKiernan, the national grass-roots director for the Parents Television Council, an advocacy group concerned about sex and violence in the media, said that when it comes to violent video games, any positive effects are outweighed by the negative.
"You are not just passively watching Scarface blow away people," McKiernan said. "You are actually participating. Doing these things over and over again is going to have an effect."
Bavelier said games could be developed that would harness the positive effects of the first-person shooter games without the violence.
"As you know, most of us females just hate those action video games," she said. "You don't have to use shooting. You can use, for example, a princess which has a magic wand and whenever she touches something, it turns into a butterfly and sparkles."