What gamers have in common with top athletes

8 Jun 2010
Child playing computer game

While professional players aren't as fit as they should be, they have great reaction times

Elite gamers have much in common with top athletes, according to British academics - but, unsurprisingly, it’s not their fitness.

University of Essex professor Dr Dominic Micklewright studied professional gamers, testing their psychological skills and fitness levels and comparing them to a top-level athlete for a BBC Radio 4 documentary.

“Gaming shares many characteristics with sport, in the sense that it’s extremely competitive, it involves a high degree of skill, and it’s governed by quite strict rules," he told PC Pro. “Their ability to regulate anxiety was very similar."

When I first got asked to do the study, my initial reaction was 'don't be ridiculous, gaming is nothing like sport'

Dr Micklewright said gamers' reaction times were as finely tuned as fighter pilots. “Their reaction times were very, very fast. Their visual reaction time is very good."

Unsurprisingly, the professional gamers didn't score so well in the fitness tests. "The one element which was of no particular surprise was that gaming didn’t have a physical activity element to it.”

Still, Dr Micklewright noted that not all sports are as physically demanding as running a marathon, comparing gamers to more pedestrian sportsmen such as snooker players. “When I first got asked to do [the study], my initial reaction was 'don't be ridiculous, gaming is nothing like sport'," he said. "But the more I thought about it, the more similarities [became clear], and I became more and more convinced that it was close in many ways to sport."

Surprisingly unhealthy

While it was no surprise that professional gamers were less physically able than their sporty counterparts, their health problems were much worse than expected.

“One of the guys [in his early twenties] had the kind of level of aerobic fitness that was comparable to a man perhaps 60-years-old who had led a sedentary and relatively unhealthy life, perhaps a smoker or a drinker,” he said. "That was quite surprising.”

However, professional gamers spend much more time in front of their screens than average players, with the top players practising as much as 10 hours a day. “That would seem to be the cause of such low levels of typical fitness,” Dr Micklewright said.

Dr Micklewright added that getting a bit of exercise could actually help improve gaming performance, noting that top US player Johnathan Wendel makes a point of playing sports. “Apparently he has got a very strict regime of exercise… he does all the things that elite athletes do, so he’s physically training as well,” he said.

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