So, what does it exactly mean to be a video game enthusiast? If you already play, you surely have your answer. However, if you’ve never held a game controller or put a coin in a slot to play an old school arcade video game your entire life, then I honestly understand your answer if it’s, “So who cares?”

My perspective is that you need to care.

Openly, I can tell anyone reading this. I have a skill in which 50 percent of adults in this country don’t. It doesn’t matter how much weight you can lift, or even if you have a degree from any college. Age is no barrier, and neither is gender for that matter. Athletic training doesn’t even impact your abilities to achieve my skill either because no training program exists to teach it (yet).

And because I play video games at the levels of complexity I do, many of my fellow gamers also lack the ability I’m referencing. What skill do I so uniquely possess? Unlike half of Americans, I can watch three-dimensional movies in a theater without getting sick. How that applies to the next generation of athletic performance is my world of neuroscience.

According to research, half of this country’s population will experience symptoms of discomfort as a physical reaction to watching three-dimensional movies in a theater. And in that 50 percent margin of those lacking my skill, includes video game players. The biology behind why one does or doesn’t become ill has been my passion since the early 1970s, and long before 3D movies were popular enough to identify how prevalent the skill was lacking in the general population.

RECENT: The Next Generation Athlete

Those who report impact describe symptoms no different than being seasick. Headaches, nausea, even the urge to vomit has been reported by surveyed audiences unable to enjoy a 3-D movie. Of course, the question is why that happens.

My backstory in all of this started by learning at the height of the Vietnam war protesting. It seemed logical to our military if they couldn’t get enough pilots to replace those being lost in combat, that it might be prudent to figure out how to save the ones they still had.

The experiment was to put cameras in the cockpits of airplanes and try to fly them by remote control from ground stations. The results were disastrous. All crashed within minutes of takeoff. Their operators simply couldn’t control them without being in the aircraft, even though they were all experienced pilots.

Today, to be a drone operator is no mystery to our public military discussion. That they tried to operate an aircraft by remote control without a real pilot flying was an incredibly novel idea back then. In failure, was not only the training issue exposed, but has hindered the use of drones in combat ever since. Unknown then, how to operate vehicles remotely became the basis for my pursuit of formally studying video games.

I knew they were the answer.

In the academic world today, getting sick from 3-D movies is referred to as cybersickness. Civilians who experience unpleasant reactions to watching 3-D movies can stop watching them. Our military forces, unfortunately, don’t have that option.

Most teens learn to drive the family car, starting in an empty Walmart parking lot. In contrast, our military forces can’t exactly teach you to operate multimillion-dollar vehicles in the same parking lot scenario (although it would be funny). Instead, they use simulators first to introduce soldiers to the vehicles they’re being instructed to operate.

What most people in athletics fail to understand is while many recruits want to operate such costly equipment, it’s impossible to teach them if they experience the same cybersickness symptoms as 3-D moviegoers. And while cinema aficionados can simply choose the old school film presentation, unfortunately, our combat forces don’t have that option.

And yet, even though 50 percent of the population is vulnerable, testing for cybersickness doesn’t exist in any physical examination at any military recruiter’s office. By the year 2030, however, I can tell you testing for cybersickness will be a routine component to enlistment. Today, soldiers unable to train in the vehicles they enlisted to operate are simply told to find another occupation. Reversing that reality is simply one of my goals in all of this.

It’s because of my expertise in the “disease,” I’ve been offered the opportunity to teach our military forces how to overcome the problem. The joke, of course, is the fix requires a video game training curriculum to erase its symptoms. And in the same doses for athletes, it directly applies to improve playing skills as well.

The science behind cybersickness is what applies directly to anyone in the training realm of physical sports. For myself, it started in asking a straightforward question of a neurosurgeon I met decades ago. Since he couldn’t answer the question to my satisfaction, it catalyzed how I would approach the problem.

“If we only have two eyes, how do we see in three-dimension?”

With our brains being fed visual information from only two input sources, the biological question stands as to how it creates a third image within itself from which you make your environmental judgments. If the brain can create a separate visual image, then my pretense was very cut and dry — our perceptual skills were a training variable able to be impacted.

More importantly, for myself in question was to acknowledge how well our brain synthesizes two visual images into our one three-dimensional perspective. It had to be a skill that could be identified, isolated, and what few around me deemed possible. It also meant that if our 3-D perspective was created in our heads, then those abilities could be improved as well.

How video games improve cognitive function is what fascinates me about the process. The biology to explain it involves little more than the monitor you’re viewing. In the two-dimensional world of our media, our eyes only have to make sure that what you’re seeing is in focus. So, if you’re reading this article on a screen, and do so accurately without glasses, then your eyes are doing a great job for you.

In the world of 3-D movies, or video games for that matter, the informational material is not only moving, but objects are moving in their spatial relationship of depth. So, while your eyes are seeing your screen perfectly, the brain is being fed information that the objects it sees should be yards, if not miles away, and moving as if they truly were.

That cognitive conundrum is the needed skill in learning how to overcome your brain’s natural demand of a three-dimensional visual perspective to judge the world around you when the visual information presented denies it.

The inability for the brain to manage the disconnect between the short distance screen delivered information and the real world depth movement of the objects projected in motion is the source of the “pain” caused by watching 3-D presented material. The ability to comprehend three dimensions from a two-dimensional information source is the skill that all athletes need to develop to erase cybersickness symptoms.

For the athletic world, I describe the difference between what your eyes see in screen distance, and the distance information your brain is perceiving being the playing field I compete on. It can be as small as a house room or miles in diameter. With your monitor size in front of you never changing, the references to distances can be infinitely scaled and challenged through the educational skills of a good video game.

How well one learns to navigate the field of projected motion, has direct overlap to improving one’s cognitive decision-making skills by improving their understanding of real-world movement. Originally, I described video games as the ultimate optical illusion, which demanded a whole new set of cognitive skills to manage.

Today I would tell you it’s the amazing ability for the first time anyone in sports can separate the biology of perception from the skill of perception. You can get glasses to see any screen accurately, but that has no impact on your video game playing skills.

One of the oldest studies I found proved exactly that, playing a video game had real-world translations to improve spatial awareness judgment. The game was called Zaxxon, and a 1986 study testing it was foundation to both my military and sports application argument to the gaming and athletic training connection. I’ve simply had decades to study video games far more in-depth than anyone late to the research party.

And while researchers today study the skill, I’d prefer to teach it.

That the ability to accurately judge a 40-foot distance through a video game, having a direct impact on better situational comprehension of any real-life 40-foot distance is the skill few are willing to recognize, let alone improve. Don’t be one of them.

For non-gamers, the biological rewiring of one’s brain to survive in a world with no cognitive precedent is understandable if it’s difficult for you. Most importantly is recognizing an ability you currently don’t have to be, in fact, the legitimate pursuit of perfecting what is uniquely a natural biological anomaly.

As the skill of depth perception is now an isolated component of our environmental awareness, it allows through a gaming curriculum the opportunity to better improve athletic spatial understanding and physical control. And how well a game can reproduce such detail of movement accuracy is one of the programming skills I have the ultimate respect for.

Athletically, it’s refinement impacts how skilled you are in distance judgment when figuring out how your body is going to make an extremely difficult turnaround jumper, with little opportunities for your brain to see the basket and guide you properly to make the shot.

In sports movies, that’s the moment a scene usually goes to a slow-motion presentation of a player making that goal winning and not to mention buzzer-beating basket.

Movies can stretch out the drama. What’s missing is how many spatial decisions the brain has to process to make the shot accurate with little time to figure out how it needs to coordinate the body and make it happen. While we laud the physical skills of athletes, few give credit to the “mental math” in calculating how to make the shot in the first place.

What the athletic world misses is why throwing a hand grenade in a video game is an identical overlap in mental processes with figuring how to make a pitch shot in golf or a basketball jump shot. If the question is perfecting the mental math of the task, why wouldn’t you want to be proficient in all the video games that challenge that cognitive ability in as many ways possible?

Recognizing the uniqueness in virtual skill navigation allows any athlete to be challenged in multiple ways, guaranteeing the best playing decision possible when the clutch play demands it.

In order to build virtual environment navigation skills, the training curriculum will be the demands of the next generation trainer to improve real-world athletic performance. To those abilities introducing virtual navigation on a 3-D level requires proficiency yet recognized by the training industry. Don’t let their ignorance get in the way of your future.

Openly, how playing video games optimally challenges your depth perception capabilities is a far more complex skill and cognitive processes than many realize. But if you genuinely want to make that headline writing shot, catch, or throw, then you do need to care how in control of your body’s environmental awareness you are in physically making that happen.


  1. Study: 3-D movies leave many feeling sick
  2. Video Games and Spatial Cognition
  3. Motion sickness vs. cybersickness: Two different problems or the same condition?

Header image credit: lassedesignen © 123rf.com

The Sport Jester is an independent researcher in elite athletic performance. Known for his extremely controversial training philosophies, his private students include the leadership of both medical and training commands of our combat forces. Today he is currently rewriting training manuals for both the Army and US Marines to assimilate his research into their formal doctrine.