Category Archives: Virtual Reality

Scientists: Out-of-body experiences are products of confused minds

People close to death have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves Photo: ALAMY

AAAS: Out-of-body experiences are just the product of a confused mind

Out-of-body experiences are not “spiritual” phenomenon but tricks played by a confused mind, claim scientists who fooled people into thinking they inhabited the body of a virtual human.

Telegraph | Feb 18, 2011

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent in Washington

Throughout history people have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves, often when close to death or on the operating table.

The accounts have been so vivid that they are often cited as proof of the existence of the soul or Heaven.

But scientists now claim they have dispelled this myth by artificially creating an out-of-body experience using computers and cameras.

They believe the feeling of detachment occurs when the brain becomes confused by conflict between the senses – and is not proof of any “spiritual dimension” to existence.

Professor Olaf Blanke and his team at University of Geneva said they had “immersed” volunteers into the body of an avatar – a computer generated version of themselves.

Volunteers were asked to wear virtual reality goggles and then stand in front of a camera.

The subjects saw the cameras view of their back on screens in the goggles, computer enhanced to create a 3D virtual version or avatar.

When their back was stroked with a pen so was the virtual avatar in front of them, making them think that the virtual body was in fact their own.

In this way people became confused about their real and the virtual self – even though they were effectively two metres apart from each other.

Prof Blanke, who presented his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Washington, said: “Through vision and touch they lost themselves.

“They start thinking that the avatar is their own body. We created a partial out-of-body experience.

“We were able to dissociate touch and vision and make people think that their body was two metres in front of them.”

He said by inducing the out-of-body experience it proved it was more like a brain malfunction when sight, touch and balance become confused.

Dr Blanke said: “Instead of it being a spiritual thing, it is the brain being confused. Why do we think that it is spiritual when we don’t think a phantom limb when one is lost is an example of the paranormal.”

To take the research further they used sensors connected to the skull to find the areas of the brain most involved in deciding where it belongs.

These were found to be temporo-parietal and frontal regions – parts at the front and right side of the brain responsible for integrating touch and vision.

If these were damaged or somehow short-circuited it could account for the feeling of floating above your body often associated with an out-of-body experiences.

Aside from explaining out-of-body experiences, the work could have more commercial applications, said the researcher.

The technique could be used to make computer games even more exciting or projecting people into robot soldiers or surgeons.

They could even be used to treat eating disorders linked with a flawed body image, such as anorexia.

Out-of-body experiences most often occur during sleep or waking as well as through drug use, trauma and under anaesthetic.

They effect around one in 10 of the population.

Russian media links airport terror bombing to video game Modern Warfare 2

Russian state media says Modern Warfare 2 may have inspired a real-life attack. Players gun down unarmed civilians at a Russian airport, as terrorists.

Russian news links Modern Warfare 2 to airport bomb

Game questioned as an influence to recent terrorist attack | Jan 25, 2011

Russian television channel, Russia Today, has linked Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to yesterday’s terrorist bombing of Russian airport Domodedovo in Moscow.

Gamers will remember the controversy surrounding MW2’s ‘No Russian’ level, which has players taking control of an under-cover agent who’s forced to join a group of terrorists in an attack on a fictitious Moscow airport in order to maintain their cover. Players are not, however, forced to kill civilians.

“It may have seemed too gruesome and tragic ever to come true,” says the report from the government-funded Russia Today. “But far-fetched it is not, for this week’s events at Domodedovo International Airport are very real indeed,” it adds.

The report goes on to compare footage of the game level with footage of the explosion and aftermath at Domodedovo. “The game was released by the American company Activision in November 2009, and in just a few months, sales surpassed $1 billion worldwide,” adds the report.

It goes on to suggest that the game may have been a direct influence. Walid Phares, the director of Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – who also regularly contributes to Fox news as an expert on terrorism – told the channel: “Indeed it is a trouble to look at the game and reality. The issue is we need to know if terrorists or extremists are using these videos or DVDs or games to basically apply the model.”

Phares goes on to suggest that radical groups such as the “jihadists, Al-Qaeda or other kind” use games such as MW2 to “train”.

Media critic Danny Schechter added: “This is the way entertainment mirrors reality and reality mirrors entertainment, and there are people influenced by all this, even though the manufacturers always deny having any influence on anyone.”

The ‘No Russian’ level was removed from the Russian version of MW2.

Virtual ‘reality’ addicted couple raised avatar baby online while real life baby starved to death

Gamers’ Tot Dies of Starvation

The Sun | Mar 4, 2010


A COUPLE addicted to computer games let their real life baby starve to death while raising a virtual daughter online, cops said today.

The couple spent up to12 hours a day at internet cafes leaving their three-month-old daughter home alone at their apartment in Suwon, South Korea.

Cops say the couple had become obsessed with living online and neglected their real lives.


Virtual child passes mental milestone

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Matrix-style virtual worlds ‘a few years away’

They raised an avatar baby through their profiles on a Second Life-style game called PRIUS, while their real daughter was given just one bottle of milk a day.


Dad Kim Yoo-chul, 41, and mum Choi Mi-sun, 25, called the emergency services when they returned from one online session and found their daughter dead.

They told police: “We found she had passed away when we woke up in the morning.”

But cops became suspicious about how severely dehydrated the tot was.

A spokesman for the National Scientific Criminal and Investigation Laboratory, which carried out an autopsy on the girl, said: “She appears to have starved to death because she was not fed for such a long period of time.”

The girl was initially well cared for by her grandmother — but her health deteriorated after she moved back in with her parents.

She tragically died in September last year.

Cops tried to arrest the parents, but they disappeared after the baby’s funeral.

They caught up with them on Tuesday and they have since been charged with child abuse and neglect.

The parents told cops after their arrest: “Due to our sense of guilt, we have not been to a PC gaming room over these five months.”

It is thought the couple met in 2008 on an internet chat site.

Online games are massively popular in South Korea.

A 28-year-old man dropped dead recently after playing his favourite game Starcraft for 50 hours non-stop without eating and drinking.

Intel Wants Brain Implants in Its Customers’ Heads by 2020

Matrix creep: Mind Trip Intel wants into your brain. (Image Warner Bros.)

Researchers expect brain waves to operate computers, TVs and cell phones

PopSci | Nov 20, 2009

By Jeremy Hsu

If the idea of turning consumers into true cyborgs sounds creepy, don’t tell Intel researchers. Intel’s Pittsburgh lab aims to develop brain implants that can control all sorts of gadgets directly via brain waves by 2020.

The scientists anticipate that consumers will adapt quickly to the idea, and indeed crave the freedom of not requiring a keyboard, mouse, or remote control for surfing the Web or changing channels. They also predict that people will tire of multi-touch devices such as our precious iPhones, Android smart phones and even Microsoft’s wacky Surface Table.

Turning brain waves into real-world tech action still requires some heavy decoding of brain activity. The Intel team has already made use of fMRI brain scans to match brain patterns with similar thoughts across many test subjects.

Plenty of other researchers have also tinkered in this area. Toyota recently demoed a wheelchair controlled with brainwaves, and University of Utah researchers have created a wireless brain transmitter that allows monkeys to control robotic arms.

There are still more implications to creating a seamless brain interface, besides having more cyborgs running around. If scientists can translate brain waves into specific actions, there’s no reason they could not create a virtual world with a full spectrum of activity tied to those brain waves. That’s right — we’re seeing Matrix creep.

Calling All Transhumanists


Scene from the 1927 film Metropolis where a woman is used by a mad scientist to create a robot replica to serve his evil plans.

Forbes | Oct 2, 2009

by Courtney Boyd Myers

Technology futurists love to talk about the Singularity as the point in time when technology starts to progress so rapidly that machine intelligence melds with and surpasses human intelligence. It is to futurists what the Rapture is to fundamentalist Christians.

Those who welcome or fear this eventuality are gathering this weekend in New York City for the fourth annual Singularity Summit. Speaking at the summit are some of the better-known tech soothsayers, including author and programmer Ray Kurzweil; Steve Wolfram, the founder of the novel search engine Alpha; and Aubrey de Grey, an expert on anti-aging science. Also giving talks are Australian philosopher David Chalmers, whose idea inspired the Matrix film series, and Pay-Pal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has donated in the six figures to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the organization putting on the event. Last year, the summit drew 1,000 curious academics and entrepreneurs in San Jose, Calif. (See our story on the 2007 Summit here.)

Michael Vassar, the president of the institute, gives the Singularity just under a 25% chance of happening by 2040 and a 70% chance by 2060. When we do cross that line, Vassar says nothing will be the same. “Humans living in the post-Singularity world will be as powerless as jellyfish are in today’s world,” he says. His odds don’t take into account the chances of the world plunging into rapid technological decline due to a nuclear war or a worldwide collapse into barbarism.

Vassar’s six staffers at the Singularity Institute, including Kurzweil, publish papers with titles such as, “Uncertain Future Project,” “Global Catastrophic Risk Project” and “Economics and Machine Intelligence,” and have developed software that supposedly predicts technology’s trajectories and generates odds on the occurrences of global catastrophes like nuclear war and global warming.

Singularists fall into optimist and pessimist camps. Optimists, such as Kurzweil, look forward to living in an age in which human intelligence is enhanced by brain implants that extend our memories, enhance our senses and allow us to solve problems faster and with greater accuracy.

The pessimists, and Vassar is one of them, see threats to humanity from the rise of an unfriendly machine intelligence that will want to enslave humans (think The Matrix) and use our brain matter for endless computation, much as we’ve used computers in the past 60 years.

Vassar says he and his colleagues at the Singularity Institute are working on seeing that a Matrix-like future never happens. Institute research fellow Eliezer Yudkowsky coined the term “Friendly AI” to describe an AI that could be built to have a moral conscience. One of the institute’s chief goals is to encourage other scientists to create this Friendly AI. (Read “Vassar’s Machine Minds” in the AI Report.)

Many computer scientists and engineers remain very skeptical of the Singularity and the cargo-cult enthusiasm that surrounds it. They don’t believe in humanity’s ability to reach a point at which technology will be so complex as to render us inconsequential. It’s also likely that for economic reasons, technical progress and computer hardware performance will never accelerate at the speed required to reach the Singularity.

Will Wright, the creator of The Sims videogame series, has gone on record saying that machines will never achieve the kind of intelligence and creativity of which humans are capable. But he does believe that machines will one day be able to make themselves more intelligent, effectively reprogramming themselves until the first real AI achieves its own sort of sentience, one that is very alien to our own human cognizance.

Ariel Rabkin, a third year Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkley’s Computer Science program, doubts that many technical people take the Singularity seriously. “Human-comparable AI is really hard,” he says, “And we’re nowhere close to achieving it.” He adds, “I can tell you that nobody I work with at Berkeley or elsewhere has ever mentioned it. And just to be clear, I don’t just mean, ‘We don’t talk about it in courses.’ I mean, nobody mentions it, at all, ever. We don’t think about it.”

But the Singularity continues to pique the curiosity of the layman. Over the next 12 months, Hollywood will release several movies with trans-humanist themes, such as Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates, James Cameron’s Avatar, Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man and The Singularity is Near, with a script by Ray Kurzweil. In a time when the publishing industry is struggling, Better Humans LLC has just launched a new magazine called H+ covering the trans-humanism scene for fans of radical technological change.

It’s possible that because the Singularity is a relatively new idea, it’s embraced mostly by the youth and dismissed as a counter-cultural trend by an older generation of professors and scientists. “I’m the older side of the Singularists,” says Vassar, who is 30 years old.

The Singularity probably won’t destroy humanity in our lifetime, but it’s productive to keep asking the question of whether technology is serving us or if things are the other way around.

Real Science Sets Up Surrogates‘ Futuristic Robot Action


In Surrogates, Bruce Willis plays a cop who loses control of his robotic counterpart. Photo courtesy Disney

Wired | Sep 25, 2009

By Hugh Hart

HOLLYWOOD — Taken at face value, Bruce Willis’ new sci-fi thriller Surrogates sports a premise every bit as outlandish as the wig he wears during much of the movie. In the film’s near-future setting, humans have withdrawn from everyday life almost completely. Instead, they hole up in their homes and send robotic versions of themselves, called “surrogates,” into the real world.

The remote-control androids, which look vaguely like the robots from 1973’s Westworld, perform the operators’ jobs and interact with other surrogates. Willis stars as both a fresh-faced surrogate and its worn-out operator, who chafes at the lack of personal interaction in his life.

“In this movie, people stay at home in their underwear wired into this fantastic massagelike chair device for 16 hours at a stretch and operate this idealized version of themselves that they can control like a puppet,” said Surrogates director Jonathan Mostow as he previewed snippets of the film in his editing bay on the Disney lot last month.

During the video interview above, Mostow expounds on surrogate technology and elaborates on the human/machine dynamic in the PG-13 film, which opens Friday. “If your brain waves say, ‘OK, raise your hand up like this,’ then that’s what the robot does,” he said.

Human-machine interfaces have been explored before in movies, from Sleep Dealer’s node workers, who jack in to a network to operate machines remotely, to The Matrix’s humans-as-batteries paradigm.

Pure sci-fi, right? Not entirely. Chad Cohen, science producer for Discovery Studio’s upcoming Discovery Channel series Curiosity, says Surrogates draws from real-world technology to sell its central concept.

“There is certainly a lot of research out there relating to neural interfaces that would help audiences make the leap and buy the premise,” he said. In fact, as the movie starts, it uses news clips citing real scientific experiments to set up its story line.

Case in point: Last May, University of Pittsburgh scientists implanted a monkey with electrodes that empowered the subject to move a mechanical arm and grab food using willpower alone.

“It’s almost like Luke Skywalker using the force to grab his lightsaber,” said Cohen. “From there, it’s not such a stretch to think that one day researchers might help paralyzed people control prosthetic arms.”

Another real-world example of brain-wave-activated robotics comes from Duke University Medical Center scientists, who wired a rhesus monkey with electrodes. When the monkey strode on a treadmill in North Carolina, its cortex prompted a 5-foot humanoid in Japan to start walking.

“We can read signals from the motor and sensory areas of the brain, decode them, and send them this bipedal robot that actually starts walking like a monkey,” Duke neuroscientist Miguel A. L. Nicolelis told Scientific American.

And not unlike Surrogates‘ humans who operate their robotic counterparts from the comfort of home, Hiroshi Ishiguro has built a neuromechanical replica of himself that lets him engage the real world by proxy. Ishiguro’s doppelgänger, dubbed Geminoid, gives lectures in venues thousands of miles from the scientist’s Osaka home office.

The type of advanced remote-control robots imagined in Surrogates likely won’t materialize in the real world for decades, if at all. Yet on a metaphorical level, Mostow, who earlier delved into big-screen robotics when he directed Terminator 3, believes people have already become overly attached to technologies that threaten to make in-person face time obsolete.

Pointing to the near-addictive quality of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Mostow says: “What this movie is really about is what it means to live in a digital age where we’re connected to all these machines, yet we’re also so isolated from each other.”



“Within ten years, you’re gonna have the world of the surrogates…”

Surrogates – Official Trailer

Surrogates – Official Science Fact Teaser

Chinese teen dies at Internet addiction rehab camp

Associated Press | Aug 6, 2009

BEIJING — China is investigating the death of a teenager who was allegedly beaten to death in a camp designed to treat Internet addiction, state media said.

Deng Senshan, 15, died Sunday, less than a day after his parents sent him to the camp in southern Guangxi province, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The case has led medical experts to call for laws regulating centers that treat obsessive Web surfing. Concern over such behavior is so widespread in China, and demand for rehabilitation is so great, that some camps now advertise on television, the report said.

Deng was found vomiting and was taken to a clinic where he died. Fellow students said a teacher beat him, Xinhua reported.

The report quoted the local government as saying several marks were found on the boy’s body. It said four trainers from the Qihang Salvation Training Camp in Nanning city have been detained.

Police and government authorities in Nanning could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Controversy over the methods used in addiction-treatment camps led the Ministry of Health to issue a notice last month banning the use of electric shock therapy on Internet addicts at one hospital in eastern China.

Tao Ran, director of the country’s first Internet addiction treatment clinic under a military hospital in Beijing, told The Associated Press that such deaths are bound to happen because few camps employ scientific methods, with most opting for crude military-style discipline.

Tao said 40 percent of those addicted to the Internet suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and find it difficult to obey orders at training camps.

“They are only one-fourth or one-fifth as efficient in their academic life,” he said. “Once you put these kids to the training camps or schools, they are bound to have problems with the teachers, because … they can’t be still, while the training is all about keeping still.”

Internet addiction is a big problem in China because 200 million Internet users are between the ages of 15 and 35 and many lack self-control, Tao said. Students at high school and college also face enormous pressure from parents to succeed academically.

Tao’s clinic has treated about 5,000 Internet addicts since 2004.

Xinhua said the numbers of treatment facilities and addicts treated have soared in the past few years in major cities.

China’s National People’s Congress has estimated that 10 percent of China’s Internet users under age 18 are addicted. Chinese psychologists say symptoms include being online more than six hours a day — playing games or looking at pornography rather than working or studying — and getting angry when unable to get online.

Deng’s father told Xinhua his son spent all his time on the Internet. He said he sent his son to the camp after seeing an advertisement on television.

Video Gamers Hooked for Life

Some researchers say video games are addictive in ways similar to gambling addiction. | Jul 31, 2009

By Tuan C. Nguyen and Lucas Siegel

Video gamers are gamers for life, analysts say. And that’s no surprise to the industry that peddles the games and the hardware, which grew last year as the rest of the economy went south.

But health experts are worried that the deepening love affair some gamers have with their consoles may lead to addiction.

Consumer spending on video game hardware, software and accessories rose by 19 percent in 2008 over the previous year to $22.9 billion, according to the report released this week by the Entertainment Merchants Association.

New game console hardware sales increased by 11 percent, despite no price drops from Nintendo or Sony, two of the three major console manufacturers. Microsoft dropped the price of each version of their Xbox 360 console just prior to the holiday 2008 season.

There are signs of a slowdown, however, including a dip in sales during June, also reported this week. And yesterday, Nintendo announced that sales of its popular Wii consoles fell by 57 percent in the latest quarter — the first drop since 2006, according to news reports. Still, industry analysts expect overall industry profits to rebound with a slew of highly anticipated titles scheduled for release in the second half of the year.

“Our data also shows that the number of video gamers is broadening across many demographics, meaning as people get older they keep playing because they are now playing video games with their kids or getting fit with the Nintendo Wii,” says George Van Horn, a senior analyst at IBISworld.

One factor behind the rise: The average console game typically provides between 5 and 25 hours of playtime. When that game is completed, gamers look to a new game, often without replaying the old ones.

“Once a person becomes a video gamer, he or she will remain a video gamer indefinitely, rendering the industry essentially turnover-proof,” Van Horn said.

Meanwhile, the notion that video gaming can become addictive has remained controversial.

A study published in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science found that nearly 1 in 10 youths who play video games behaved in ways that were similar to other addictive disorders, such as compulsive gambling. These behaviors include skipping chores, lying to parents and even stealing money to support their gaming habits.

Excessive gaming has become a particularly severe problem in Asian countries, where a number of gaming-related deaths have been reported. In 2005, a 28-year old South Korean man died of exhaustion after playing computer games at an Internet café non-stop for close to 50 hours. A state survey released by the South Korean government revealed that an estimated 2.4 percent of the population aged 9 to 39 may be addicted to gaming.

Still, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has yet to recognize those who play games excessively as having a disorder, though some experts expect that to change.

“With these gamers, there’s almost always some other underlying issue such as depression, anxiety or some form of social disorder,” says Jerald Block, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health & Sciences University and an APA advisor. “But if the game playing poses a barrier to treating any of these other issues, it would have to be addressed separately as a pathology.”

Block is currently lobbying the APA to include pathological video game playing in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due out in 2012.

Thousands of children being paid to market junk food and video games to schoolmates


Children playing on Nintendo

Thousands of children are being paid to test and promote food, drink, gadgets and video games to their classmates, according to Britain’s most senior consumer watchdog.

Telegraph | Jan 21, 2009

By Harry Wallop

More than a third of a million children, some as young as five, have been recruited to conduct market research for large companies, including toy and gadget manufacturers Mattel, Nintendo and snack companies Tizer, Wrigley’s and Coca-Cola.

Most of the children are paid and some schools have even given their blessing, earning themselves up to £4,000 a year for surveying the children on the companies’ behalf.

The practice has been highlighted by Ed Mayo, the Government’s newly-appointed ‘consumer tzar’ in a book published next week.

Consumer Kids, co-authored with academic Agnes Nairn, is a blistering attack on how companies have “groomed” children to become sophisticated consumers, by using the internet and viral marketing.

The book attacks the increasing sexualisation of children and how companies encourage “pester power”.

Its strongest criticism, however, is directed at how children have been recruited by specialised marketing companies, the biggest of which is Dubit.

The company, originally set up by teenagers, has worked with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Wrigley’s, Tizer, Mattel as well as public institutions such as the British Museum, West Yorkshire Police and the anti-drug campaign Frank.

Dubit boasts it is in “constant contact with over 350,000 . . . inspiring young people”, thanks to a deal with 600 schools, which involves head teachers agreeing to their pupils answering marketing questionnaires. Each completed questionnaire can earn the school £2, with some schools making £4,000 each year. Primary school children, including five-year-olds, are sometimes involved.

As well as these school children, there are 30,000 children who are Dubit Informers, who conduct surveys online every week or so – while at their home computers – on behalf of companies. Children, who must obtain their parents’ permission, can earn 50p to £1 a time for giving their views.

The most controversial practice, however, is Dubit’s recruitment of “brand ambassadors”, which are paid to help promote a new drink, toy or gadget to their classmates. The company estimates it has about 7,000 seven- to 19-year-olds who are the “best, the coolest, the trendsetters”.

They have to test out products, show them off to their friends, host parties where the brand is promoted, and give feedback to the company.

There is no suggestion that any of Dubit’s activities are against the law.

“This is insidious and downright creepy,” said Mr Mayo, who is the chief executive of Consumer Focus.

“There is no doubt children are savvier than ever and that should be celebrated. But we need a debate about how they are being bombarded by big businesses. Children are more vulnerable than both they and their parents sometimes realise.”

Mattel used the technique to test out a Barbie-branded MP3 digital music player, with 50 girls aged seven to 11 recruited to spread the word. To receive all the rewards – the player itself, and other branded products – the girls needed to create their own fan website, and encourage their friends to sign up to

A spokesman for Mattel said: “Barbie MP3 players was a unique new product that was aimed for girls 9 years and over. Working with Dubit, in a controlled and responsible way, we created an opportunity for girls to sample the player and to give us feedback.

“This activity was done in a fun and exciting way and children did this in a voluntary capacity and under the full guidance and approval of their parents.”

Another client is Nintendo, which helped promote its Animal Crossing game on the DS console by giving out free games and consoles to the testers, on the proviso that they gave feedback.

“Nintendo takes its responsibilities to children and parents very seriously. We worked with Dubit on a project involving a small number of young people between 2006 and 2007, with assurance from Dubit of parental consent,” a spokesman said.

Coca-Cola rewarded its ‘ambassadors’, all of whom were 16 or over, with shopping vouchers for promoting the drink Fanta.

All the companies stress that the children’s ages were thoroughly verified and the permission of parents were sought if they were under 16.

Robin Hilton, director at Dubit, pointed out that the research was invaluable for many institutions, not least public-sector bodies, such as the anti-drug campaign Frank, who sometimes struggle to connect with young people.

“Kids want to be involved in campaigns, we allow them to do just that – there is no pressure put on young people to take part, nor would we every ask a young person to be underhand or represent something they were not already a fan of,” he added.

Video games like World of Warcraft and Second Life could be used for education


Researchers say the “immersive” aspect of games such as World of Warcraft means that the brain is particularly engaged and can absorb complex issues

Online computer games could be used as a powerful teaching tool for children as they are so popular and engaging, scientists claim.

Telegraph | Jan 1, 2009

By Richard Alleyne

Researchers believe interactive games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life could be adapted so that children learn skills from them that could be transferred to real life.

They believe that the “immersive” aspect of the games in which the player suspends his belief means that the brain is particularly engaged and can absorb complex issues.

The games real life feel also means that students could effectively carry out “work experience” on the computer learning techniques and skills they can apply back in reality.

Researchers believe that the games, which they say are more active than passive traditional learning, could be most useful for science based subjects with students able to carry out imaginary experiments and improve their ability to “learn to learn”.

“Compared with a similar, paper-based curriculum that included laboratory experiences, students overall were more engaged in the immersive interface and learned as much or more,” said Professor Chris Dede, an academic in Learning technologies at Harvard University in the journal Science.

Games such as Whyville and the ecology game River City have already been developed specifically to teach children and students but scientists believe established popular video games could be adapted so that players could be “dosed” with knowledge.

Much like “flight simulators” they are so “real” that many life skills can be learned from them. Early tests of these learning games have shown unusual levels of student engagement.

Dr Merrilea Mayo, director of Future Learning systems at the Kaufman Foundation, said the games can also help close the gap between under and over-achieving children.

“Unlike lectures, games can be adapted to the pace of the user,” she said

“Games also simultaneously present information in multiple visual and auditory modes, which capitalises on different learning styles.

“Although the field is still in its embryonic stages, game-based learning has the potential to deliver science and maths education to millions of users simultaneously.

“Unlike other mass-media experiments in education (e.g., TV), games are a highly interactive.”

The new research is likely to add to the debate about the pros and cons of video games.

Last year the culture minister Margaret Hodge called for a film-style classifications for games such as World of Warcraft which is said to have 10 million users worldwide.

There have also been concerns that the games are addictive and that children’s education and lives are being disrupted by them.