Does Video Game Driving Translate to Real-World Skills?

PAFF_031215_VideoGameDriving_newsfeatureEvidence is mounting that playing video games may be one way for people to sharpen a number of cognitive skills.

One recent study found that older adults could significantly improve their ability to multi-task after playing a specially designed driving video game called NeuroRacer. Another study from researchers at the University of Rochester found that playing action-packed video games improved people’s ability to make quick decisions and ignore distractions.

But can hours spent hunched over a controller translate to real skills on the road?

In a recent study, psychological scientists Maria Rita Ciceri and Daniele Ruscio of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan compared the driving skills of avid gamers and experienced motorists to see whether commercially available racing games might help train players to look ahead for hazards.

The researchers were particularly interested in whether video games trained non-drivers to use the same kinds of visual search techniques that help experienced drivers avoid danger on the road. Previous research has shown that novice drivers tend keep their eyes narrowly focused on the road directly in front of them, while more experienced drivers scan all around the road and far up ahead for potential hazards.

Looking ahead for danger and scanning the sides of the road is a skill that drivers tend to develop after hundreds of hours of real world driving practice. Ciceri and Ruscio hypothesized that after hours of “driving practice” trying to get that new high score, gamers might be developing these same visual search techniques.

The researchers recruited 40 dedicated male video game enthusiasts; each participant averaged about 10-15 hours per week of realistic racing video game playing. Half of the gamers had at least 5 years of on-the-road driving experience, while the other half had no real-world driving experience at all.

In the lab, participants were seated with a steering wheel and pedals and asked to follow along with a series of driving videos as if they were really driving the car. One video featured road interactions recorded from real driving in an urban area near the city of Milan, Italy. The other video included the same road interactions recorded from the video game Crash Time II.

Unbeknownst to the participants, an eye-tracking monitor recorded where they were looking during the video experiment. The researchers were particularly interested in seeing how much attention non-drivers and experienced drivers paid to key safety spots, like rearview mirrors, intersections, and stop signs.

Even after hours of “practice” driving in video games, non-drivers showed the same limited visual search that is typical of other inexperienced drivers. Experienced drivers checked key safety areas far more often and for significantly longer than non-driving gamers did.

“Unlike experienced drivers, gamers’ virtual driving attention is focused on only a few elements of the driving scene for only a short amount of time, and every scene is approached in the same way, without any evident differentiation in levels of attention,” Ciceri and Ruscio write in the journal Transportation Research Part F.

The map of eye-tracking data from non-driving gamers showed that they focused almost entirely on what was directly in front of them, whereas data from experienced drivers’ eyes swept back and forth, monitoring the whole streetscape.

Even when viewing the video game driving scenario, experienced drivers maintained their distinctive visual search style of continuously searching out potential threats as though they were driving in real traffic.

“Gamers without driving experience replicated the same patterns in a real road scenario, ignoring road signs and potential areas of interactions with other drivers, while experienced driver gamers explored video game roads like real roads,” Ciceri and Ruscio conclude.

However, just because there were differences in where subjects looked in the experiment does not necessarily mean that there will be behavioral differences out on the road.

Additionally, the fact that the experienced drivers in the study tended to be older than the non-drivers could have impacted the results, as drivers in their twenties tend to show much safer behavior compared to teen drivers. Ciceri and Ruscio suggest that future research could compare driving skills between avid gamers and non-gamers to see if regular gameplay imparts any advantages in learning to drive.



Ciceri, M. R., & Ruscio, D. (2014). Does driving experience in video games count? Hazard anticipation and visual exploration of male gamers as function of driving experience. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 22, 76-85. doi:10.1016/j.trf.2013.11.001


Having been a driving instructor, both behind the wheel and classroom instruction for 17 years, I find “gamers” to be the worst drivers I have.

The article is accurate that they tend to look directly forward at the “screen,” the windshield and are not looking to the sides or rear view mirror. Gamers also look too close in front of the vehicle instead of far down the road to get the “big picture,” and scanning. They miss obvious hazards and react slowly to the ones they see that need faster reactions. They do not see signs. road markings, and other indicators of what is permitted and what is not.

When turning, they do not look out the side window where necessary, looking straight ahead as if they think the view will change with the steering wheel. They also lack good situational awareness around the vehicle.

Gamers also tend to be very jerky, moving the wheel rapidly, trying to get the wheel turned all at once instead of slowly and SMOOTHLY. They do not seem to comprehend what the steering wheel does to the direction of travel and how the vehicle reacts to steering inputs.

The gamers also are very abrupt with the pedals, mashing them down and yanking off instead of smooth application and release.
They treat the brake and gas like on – off switches instead of a rheostat, pushing so far and stopping, even though they want to stop more or accelerate faster.

Athletes and musicians however tend to pick up the concepts and skills quickly understanding the importance of practice and learning the correct techniques.

Hi David,
I suspect you are quite right, but I wonder if there are any games that teach more realistic driving skills, and, e.g., if the current games teach driving skills such as the importance of avoiding thinking of the accelerator as an on/off button. I would have to think that a good driving simulator would be worthwhile. Are there any current driving simulators that you know of, that students can currently use? I just remember my first time on the road, how scary it was, etc. It’d be great if at least a little bit of the ‘feel of the road’ could be communicated in a simulator.

I think they should think about the kids that really enjoy cars and racing cars and know about cars because ive been playing “realistic” driving simulators for about 3 years now and i think it teaches kids to look for cars ahead of them and other surroundings

As of late I tend to get somewhat up tight when I drive certain roads! Do you have a game or app that can simulate driving?

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines.

Please login with your APS account to comment.