It may be time to reconsider the differences between nerds and jocks. Scientists say playing certain video games can actually improve real-world sports skills. The findings were published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations.

As a doctoral student in mass communications, Edward Downs wondered how physically engaging virtual sports games might affect players’ real-world skills.

"It seems to us that we've crossed an evolutionary line in game history where video games are no longer just video games any more, they've become simulators," Downs said in a press release. "These games are getting people up and physically rehearsing, or simulating motion, so we were trying to see if gaming goes beyond symbolic rehearsal and physically simulates an action closely enough that it will change or modify someone's behavior."

To find out, Downs and media studies researcher Mary Beth Oliver brought 161 volunteers into the lab to play some games.

The volunteers first filled out a survey on their background and video game experience. (Most participants had moderate video game experience.) The researchers then divided the participants into three groups. Two groups played 18 holes on the Tiger Woods PGA Tour game on a Wii. One group used the kinesthetic motion-sensor setup, which required them to stand up and go through the motions. The other group used only the Nunchuk control pad. The third group, a control group, didn’t get any Wii time at all.

The two gamer groups then filled out a second survey, detailing their feelings about golf and the game they had just played. All three groups then went to the experiment room, where a small putting green had been set up. The volunteers were asked to putt the ball from 3, 6, and 9 feet from the hole.

On average, participants from the motion-capture Wii group scored significantly higher than those from either the Nunchuk-only or control groups. The researchers believe the action of pretending to hit the ball translated into real putting practice. Nunchuk-only players, on the other hand, actually did worse than those in the control group.

“Why we suspect the symbolic rehearsal group did worse than the control group is because the control group didn't have to spend the previous 45 minutes translating button pushing into putting behavior, so they came in with more of a clean slate," Downs said in the press release.

Although the experiment was limited to putting, which does not require major muscle groups, Downs and Oliver are confident their findings will be reproducible for other physical tasks.

"The applications of these findings are very diverse—relevant to everything from sports to musical performance to physical therapy," Oliver said in the press release. "It's an exciting time to be looking at the vast array of ways that gaming can be utilized for prosocial purposes."