Science + Tech

The mutualism of video games and dentistry: Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start


In 1994, I arrived home one day to my father setting up a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). I stood motionless, elated. He switched on the power and the Super Mario World splash screen appeared on our 12-inch MAGNAVOX CRT. An empty backdrop yielded pixelated white letters, “Nintendo presents.” Koji Kondo’s Mario theme began to loop as the mustached protagonist jumped across the screen.

In 2015, sitting beneath a flat screen television is that same grey, yellowing SNES with technology more than twenty years the TV’s senior. I seldom power-on the system, but its presence is well respected by any dental student that walks through my apartment door. Video games occupy a very special place in the hearts of twenty-somethings. I’ve personally noticed, a disproportionate amount of dental students feel the same way. It caused me to wonder about a connection between video games and people who will rely on psychomotor skills throughout their careers. Is the connection real? 

What science says:

Much of the research on this topic relates to the impact of video games on the psychomotor skills of surgical residents. A 2011 study in Ireland concluded that gaming enhanced psychomotor skills, but not visuospatial or perceptual ability in predoctoral medical students. However, this study, and many others of its kind, are correlational studies. That is, conclusions are complicated by confounding, uncontrolled variables that cloud definitive causal relationships. But these studies raise a variety of other points about skills related to dentistry, including contrast sensitivity, visual attention capacity and spatial distribution.

What a gamer says:

Aside from scientific inquiry, there are innate benefits for dental students who game. Here’s my short list:

  1. Improved critical thinking
  2. Improved problem/puzzle solving
  3. Outlet for small groups of students that doesn’t have to involve alcohol
  4. (potentially un)-Healthy competition
  5. Narrative

To explain my last point is to also explain my answer to the dental school interview question: “What was the last book you read?”

If you haven’t picked up a video game other than Wii Sports, I would understand if you wrote off video games as a chronic time sink without any educational or mature, developed storytelling. Now I ask, à la Bill Nye, please consider the following. In 2009, a role-playing game (RPG) called “Dragon Age: Origins” was released and sold more than 3.2 million copies while gathering accolades such as “Game of the Year” from several prominent publications. According to Game Informer, “DA:O” featured “742,000 words of dialogue, and 202,000 words of non-conversational text.” For comparison, Encyclopedia Gamia lists popular literary works with similar word counts:

  • Bible – 1 million words
  • Harry Potter series (7 books) – 1 million words
  • Twilight series (4 books) – 591,434 words
  • The Lord of the Rings series (4 books) – 550,147 words
  • Iliad – 147,317 words
  • Odyssey – 129,443 words

Other noteworthy games with extensive stories include Baldur’s Gate II (1 million words), the Mass Effect series (1.2 million words), and Final Fantasy VII (600,000 words).

Who cares?

I do. Maybe you do, too. There’s very little time in our chaotic schedules to unwind and consume entertainment (alas, a sixth reason on my list). Studies may not (yet) support it, but if you do want to take a break, I urge you to give gaming a shot. It may help you augment skills that relate to your clinical and pre-clinical reality. At the very least, video games will bring you both joy and an outlet- two commodities that come at a premium during the pre-doc experience.

Have a favorite video game that you feel passionate about? Do you know what the title of this article means? Please share in the comments below!

– Stephen Rogers, Buffalo ’18

Stephen Rogers

Stephen Rogers is a D3 at the University at Buffalo SDM. He is the Editor in Chief for ASDA Buffalo, and a Contributing Editor for National ASDA.

Stephen's research interests include antimicrobial photodynamic therapy (aPDT), biofilms, and biomaterials. He also loves anything and everything video games, computers, and gadgets.

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  1. Well i just bought a PS4 for myself and was in doubt that if its a good investment or not. Your article has pushed me to believe my instincts that its the best stress buster for a dentist much better than alcohol, gym or any other activity

    1. Stephen Rogers says:

      PS4 purchase is a GREAT investment- catalog is incredible and the exclusives make it worth it. Been desperately wanting to play The Last of Us.

      Still hit the gym on occasion, though! Even if just for 30 minutes, it’ll make the gaming downtime that much sweeter.

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