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Can video games ease physical pain?

People playing action games showed reduced sensitivity to pain, according to a new study--suggesting shoot-'em-ups could help when it's time for a shot.

Feeling ill? Take two hours of "Grand Theft Auto" and call the doctor in the morning.

Video games could become part of the modern physician's repertoire, based on a research report released this week that suggests playing such games reduces sensitivity to pain by distracting the player.

Bryan Raudenbush, an assistant professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va., conducted the study of 30 college students. Each student had a hand submerged in ice-cold water, once with no distraction and twice more while playing one of two video games.

Subjects who played a zombie-shooting action game during the experiment were able to tolerate the pain a full minute longer than those without a game or those playing a mah-jongg puzzle game.

"It was only the active video game that would produce the effect," Raudenbush said.

The professor said that while he was restricted to testing young adults, he expects the results would be even more dramatic with children. "They have even less of an attention span, so the effect should be greater," he said.

The upshot is that doctors and hospitals could use video games to distract children during painful procedures--anything from an injection to more elaborate medical treatments.

"We're thinking doctors who deal with children might find it useful to outfit their office with a video game machine," Raudenbush said.

The researcher said the distraction effect should be pretty familiar to parents. "I got started on this after hearing from friends of mine who had children, and talked about how wrapped up they got in video games and how hard it was to get them to come to dinner or do homework," he said. "I wanted to see if you could distract people from something you might really want to be distracted from."