Professional computer gamers have the reactions of fighters pilots but the bodies of 60-year-old chain smokers, according to tests comparing them with international athletes.
A university academic conducted a series of physical and psychological tests to determine whether playing on computers could be defined as a sport.
Top gamers can earn tens of thousands of pounds a year in prize money and sponsorship but academics have warned the cost to their health could be devastating.
Dr Dominic Micklewright, from the University of Essex, put several ”elite cyber-sportsmen” through their paces to see how they compared to professional athletes.
The head of Sport, Performance, and Fatigue Research Unit also wanted to determine whether video gaming should be classed as a sport.
The cyber-sportsmen had mental sharpness and psychological traits comparable to ‘real’ athletes, and reacted to visual stimuli almost as fast as fighter jet pilots.
But their fitness levels were shockingly low and comparable to people either much younger or much older than their actual age.
One leading gamer in his twenties appeared to be slim and healthy with a physique similar to an endurance athlete.
But tests revealed he in fact had the lung function and aerobic fitness of a heavy smoker in his sixties.
Dr Micklewright blamed the gaming lifestyle of spending 10 hours a day in front a computer screen and warned youngsters against such a sedentary lifestyle.
He 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 a day in front of a screen.
”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.
”Screen time with children has a very strong correlation with childhood obesity and risk factors with heart disease later in life.”
But Dr Micklewright was equally surprised by the number of characteristics gamers did share with top athletes.
He said: ”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 said video gamers would benefit from balancing playing video games with getting fitter but their sedentary lifestyle meant they should not be classed as athletes.
He said: ”There is an inextricable link between the function of the mind and the body.
”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.
”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.”
Dr Micklewright conducted the research for The eSportsman, a Radio Four programme set to be broadcast on Friday.
He ran a series of physiological and psychological tests on gamers at the Gadget Show Live in April at the NEC Arena in Birmingham.
Playing violent computer games ‘can improve vision’
Playing violent computer games can improve your vision, according to a study.
Scientists found that an important aspect of eyesight functioned better in people who played fighting games on their PCs.
The breakthrough is significant because it was previously thought that the ability to notice even very small changes in shades of grey against a uniform background, called the contrast sensitivity function (CSF), could not be improved.
CSF is important because it aids eyesight in certain conditions, including driving at night or when there is poor visibility on the roads.
The ability is often affected by ageing and by conditions such as such as amblyopia, also known as ‘lazy eye’.
Previously doctors believed that the only ways sufferers could ease symptoms were to wear glasses or contact lenses, or to undergo corrective surgery.
Then team behind the study, from Rochester University in New York and Goldschleger Eye Research Institute and Tel Aviv University believe their new findings shows that CSF is affected not only by deterioration in the eye itself, but also in the signals coming from the brain.
The study compared the reactions of a group of seasoned gamers and a group of the same age who did not play computer games often.
They also conducted an experiment where a small sample of non-gamers were asked to play intensively for 50 hours over nine weeks.
The volunteers played either a fighting game, Unreal Tournament 2004, or a shoot-em-up, Call of Duty 2, and the results were compared with another group who played more sedate games for the same time.
Those playing action games saw their ability to discern contrast improve by between 43 and 58 per cent, a rise not mirrored in the other group, according to the findings, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Players of gory computer games ‘like adventure not blood and guts’
The gaming industry should scale back on the more gruesome aspects of some computer games, a new study suggests, as players like the adventure – not the blood and guts.
Manufacturers have been criticised in recent years for producing increasingly violent games.
One, Manhunt 2, which originally included characters who could use cheese wire to decapitate others, was repeatedly banned by British regulators and has only recently been allowed on sale with edits removing much of the violence.
Grand Theft Auto, in which players can kill prostitutes and run people over, has also been criticised for high levels of violence.
Both have been extremely successful, selling millions of games.
But a new study suggests that they would be as popular with a lower body count.
Scientists tested how much players enjoyed the games, including different elements such as the violence.
The findings, published in the journal, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that high levels of gore did not make playing the games more enjoyable.
For most players, extreme violence reduced the amount of fun that they had.
“For the vast majority of players, even those who regularly play and enjoy violent games, violence was not a plus,” said Andrew Przybylski, from the University of Rochester, in New York state.
“Violent content was only preferred by a small subgroup of people that generally report being more aggressive.”
However, even these players did not have more fun playing especially violent games.
Most players enjoyed the feelings of rising to a challenge and being in control that they got from the games, the study found, which also involved researchers at Immersyve, a firm which looks at player experiences.
Scott Rigby, president of Immersyve, added: “Much of the debate about game violence has pitted the assumed commercial value of violence against social concern about the harm it may cause.
“Our study shows that the violence may not be the real value (element), freeing developers to design away from violence while at the same time broadening their market.”
The study asked 2,670 frequent video game players, mainly male and aged between 18 and 39, how they rated certain games and how they enjoyed different elements, including violence.
The researchers also monitored the reactions of 300 undergraduates playing both violent and non-violent versions of the same game.