Skip to main content

‘Wii’ bit of technology aids medical education

February 22, 2008

Practicing medicine is complicated, serious business. But learning to practice medicine – even surgical techniques – can be aided by some simple games designed for fun.

That’s a conclusion based on research by Kanav Kahol, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, and Marshall Smith, a surgeon with Banner Health who directs a medical education center at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. Kahol also is on the faculty at Smith’s education center.

Kahol and Smith conducted studies in which trainee surgeons played a Nintendo Wii video game called Marble Mania, which requires players to develop dexterity in their hand movements to succeed at the game.

The trainees then wore “cybergloves” that allowed Kahol and Smith to evaluate their performance in simulated surgery. The researchers discovered that the trainees who played Marble Mania performed the surgical exercises significantly better than those who did not play.

The results support other studies that have found that playing some types of electronic games could fine-tune motor skills essential to performing surgery, Kahol and Smith say.

The Wii game players showed 48 percent more improvement in their surgical techniques than the non-players. Kahol and Smith presented the results at the recent international Medicine Meets Virtual Reality conference. (Their findings received a flurry of news media coverage which can be viewed at

In Marble Mania, players must roll a marble along pathways and ledges by deftly tilting the marble in different directions to keep it balanced along the course.

It’s a game requiring movements matching those that are needed to perform many surgical methods, Kahol says.

The Wii-playing surgical trainees who gained some mastery of Marble Mania demonstrated more improved accuracy and were able to work faster than the non-players, the researchers say.

“The science involved in this lies in choosing the right game for the development of the right skill,” Kahol says. “This is critical because it’s been shown that some games could lead to development of movement disorders.”

He and Smith used the cybergloves to carefully record the hand movements employed in playing particular games, then compared the movements to those used in actual surgery.

“We selected the games in which players make movements similar to ones required in surgical procedures,” Kahol says.
Kahol and Smith see the possibility of using Wii technology as a model for development of games or educational programs that simulate entire surgical procedures.

They are organizing a more extensive multi-site study to explore the idea in partnership with medical education researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities, the University of Washington and East Virginia Medical School.