If you added a Wii, PlayStation or Xbox 360 to your home this year, you’re certainly not alone. According to Nielsen figures, 54% of U.S. households now own a video game console or a handheld system. But before you berate yourself for giving in to your kids passion for video games, or worry when you hear a horrible crime blamed on computer games, new research will have you breathing a sigh of relief (and perhaps picking up a controller), as the benefits of video games becomes clear.It seems that there are some rather important benefits that come from playing those action packed video games. Regular players of video games learn to process information faster and more accurately when they’re playing in both virtual worlds and real situations according to a new study in the December 2009 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.The researchers found that regular players get faster in the games they play often, but also in totally unrelated lab tests of their reaction times. And since speed can be of vital importance in many everyday situations, this work was especially careful to look at the evidence on video games and reaction times.The games used included popular titles God of War, Halo, Unreal Tournament, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. All these action themed games call for fast processing of sensory information and acting quickly. This forces the player to make decisions and respond at a much faster pace than what we might do in real life.The team, including Matthew Dye, Ph.D. of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reviewed existing literature on video games and found some things in the data that will surprise the skeptics.- Players don’t lose accuracy as they pick up speed in the game, but instead they maintain accuracy and get faster too. The researchers think this is due to improvements in visual cognition that come after repeatedly playing the same game.- Players show enhanced performance on mental rotation skills, visual and spatial memory and tasks calling for divided attention.- Training on video games might help reduce the differences between boys and girls visual and special processing, and they might also help hold off some of the cognitive declines that come as part of getting older.”Video gaming may therefore provide an efficient training regimen to induce a general speeding of perceptual reaction times without decreases in accuracy of performance,” the study authors suggest. More and more, video games are shedding their troublesome reputation and the gaming industry has become a growing source of employment for many talented people.Gaming systems like the Wii are now part of many rehabilitation programs, and those who play the games are enjoying not only increased skills, but the fun of socializing while playing.Research continues to show that benefits of video games extend to having educational value, allowing kids to use the scientific method as they learn how to play the game, while others make geography, resource management, math, history, typing or spelling something kids want to do. So relax, grab that controller, and play along. You just might pick up a few more skills than you thought – All while having a bit of fun, too!