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07 June 2010

Leading video gamers fail on fitness

Colchester Campus

Dr Dominic Micklewright

Top video gamers have been put through their paces by Dr Dominic Micklewright from the University of Essex to find out how they shape up when compared to elite athletes.

He found their reaction skills were often as finely tuned as fighter pilots, but their fitness levels were worryingly low.

Dr Micklewright conducted a series of physiological and psychological tests on elite computer gamers at the Gadget Show Live at the NEC as part of a BBC Radio Four documentary entitled, ‘The eSportsmen’ - which is being broadcast over the new two weeks.

The programme is looking into the new generation of 'cyber-sportsmen' who can now earn tens of thousands of pounds in prize money and sponsorship.

Dr Micklewright, Head of the Sport, Performance and Fatigue Research Unit at the University’s Department of Biological Science, found the psychological traits and reaction skills of gamers could often almost match those of elite sportspeople, but their fitness levels were extremely poor.

One leading gamer in his twenties tested by Dr Micklewright appeared to be slim and healthy with a physique not that dissimilar to an endurance athlete, but had the lung function and aerobic fitness of a 60-year-old chain smoker.

Dr Micklewright said: “Someone of this age should be much fitter but perhaps this is the occupational hazard of the professional gamer who can spend around 10 hours per day in front of a computer screen practicing.

“It is always difficult to say how these things will develop, but it could have long term health implications such as an increased risk of heart disease.”

Dr Micklewright expressed concern that younger people aiming to become professional gamers might spend too much time practising on a computer.

"Screen time with children has a very strong correlation with childhood obesity and risk factors with heart disease later in life," he said.

However, other tests showed top game players did share characteristics with top athletes.

Dr Micklewright said: “When comparing their profile with high performing athletes we did find some similarities. For example, their reaction time, motor skill, competitiveness and emotions were pretty close.

“Elite athletes have unusually high levels of positive feelings and low levels of negative feelings such as depression and fatigue. We saw similar characteristics in gamers, albeit not quite as pronounced.”

Dr Micklewright argues video gamers could benefit from balancing playing video games with getting fitter.

“There is an inextricable link between the function of the mind and the body,” he said.

The programme was interested in seeing whether video gaming should be classed as a sport.

“I would say definitely not. Gaming shares some characteristics with sport because both are competitive, skill-based and governed by structured rules. But the main distinction which precludes gaming from being a sport is the lack of physical exertion," said Dr Micklewright.

“However, in the end sport is socially defined and there are sports, such as snooker and darts, which you might argue are on the boundary. Like video games these require very high levels of skill, but are relatively sedentary and not physically demanding.”

The eSportsmen is broadcast on BBC Radio Four. Episode One was broadcast on Friday 4 June and is now available on iPlayer. Episode Two will be broadcast on Friday June 11 June.

For further information please contact the Communications Office on 01206 873529.

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