Don’t put that controller down -- Nintendo Wii trains future surgeons

Aided by a robotic arm, doctors perform a gallbladder operation at Verdugo Hills Hospital.
(Scott Rathburn)

When you’re playing Nintendo you may be learning more than how to control a voracious gorilla, rescue a kidnapped princess or negotiate a go-cart course, according to a new study.

You just may be learning skills to help you perform laparoscopic surgery.


In a study posted online Wednesday in the open access journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the department of surgical sciences at the University of Rome measured the surgical skills of students who trained on a Nintendo Wii.

Across four tasks measuring 16 skill-sets on a simulator, such as locating objects with a camera and photographing them, and touching flashing, colored balls with its corresponding tool, Wii team outshone their traditionally trained colleagues in 13 of them. Dr. Mario indeed!

“Laparoscopic simulators represent a satisfactory response to this request but their high costs have limited their spread,” the study authors wrote. “Video-games may be a cheap and widely available product, helping to develop cognitive skills that, apparently, can be transferred in improved surgical performance.”

Laparoscopic gallbladder removal requires surgeons to remotely operate tools inside the patient’s abdomen, including a fiber-optic camera. Using a surgery simulator, students were graded in four tasks involving camera movement, locating objects, moving objects and completing the procedure.

According to this new study, the students who played on the Wii showed greater efficiency and accuracy in handling surgical tools. The study involved 42 first- and second-year graduates studying general, vascular and endoscopic surgery. Half the group was trained on regular simulators and the other half spent one hour a day, five days a week for four weeks playing on a Wii.

The Nintendo team played Wii Sports Tennis for its required hand-eye coordination, focus, flexibility and 3-D visualization. Wii Table Tennis required more precise management of the controller, and Wii Battle, an air-combat game, requires precise movements and 3-D visualization.

Studies show that early trainees struggle adjusting to make three-dimensional movements on a two-dimension screen. The Wii helped drastically improve that, researchers found.

Wii players improved their ability to simultaneously operate two instruments and manipulate objects more than 80% better compared to the control group’s 20%. Cauterizing efficiency improved 42% for players compared to 11% for the rest, and camera accuracy for players improved 83% to 10% for students trained on a traditional surgical simulator.

Previous studies have measured the effects of gaming for prospective surgeons, but none have used so many students and tested so many skill-sets, researchers wrote.

“We hope this may be a trigger to develop dedicated software aimed to help young surgeons as the economic impact of these consoles is significantly lower than traditional laparoscopic simulators and they provide a basic didactic value,” the authors wrote. “The Nintendo Wii may be adopted in lower-budget institutions or at home by younger surgeons to optimize their training on simulators before performing real procedures.”

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