Gaming Experience and Spatial Learning in a Virtual Morris Water Maze

Suzanne de Castell, Jennifer Jenson, Hector Larios


Experience playing video games has been associated with perceptual and cognitive improvements (e.g., Castel, Pratt, & Drummond, 2005; Boot, Kramer, Simons, Fabiani, & Gratton, 2008; Colzato, van den Wildenberg, & Hommel, 2013; Oei & Patterson, 2013) For instance, video gamers show superior spatial abilities than non-gamers (Greenfield, Graig, & Lohr, 1994; Feng, Spence, and Pratt, 2007; Green & Bavelier, 2003). Given that such abilities have been associated with educational and vocational success in STEM fields (Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009), it is important to understand the relationship between them and video game experience. In past research, virtual versions of the Morris Water Maze (VMWM) have been used to investigate spatial learning in non-human subjects. Yet, the extent of VMWM’s ability to reliably and validly assess human spatial learning is relatively unknown. We developed a VMWM within the Second Life (2015) virtual world and conducted a pilot study with 12 eighth grade students. In the experiment, the participants learned to find the location of a platform in the VMWM. We analyzed performance on the task to identify data trends indicative of spatial learning. Specifically, we compared performance between males and females with varying levels of gaming expertise. In this article, we report on an analysis of navigation strategies as measured by participants’ path lengths and patterns, and we discuss the implications of these results in assessing spatial cognition.


video games; gaming experience; virtual worlds; sex differences; spatial abilities; navigation strategies

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