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Video game excellent training for surgical skills

16 December 2014

A video game specially designed by Cutting Edge [i] can be used to help surgeons ‘warm up’ for a laparoscopic procedure; surgeons who played the game for fifteen minutes made fewer mistakes on a number of existing surgical tests. This is one of the findings in a thesis written by Maarten Jalink of the University Medical Center Groningen. His research also showed that surgeons who are good at laparoscopies also score well in the game, and vice versa. Jalink will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 17 December.

In his thesis, Jalink studied the effects of playing specific video games on test subjectsbasic surgical skills. Laparoscopy is a surgical technique, whereby the surgeon inserts a camera into the abdomen via a small incision in the abdominal wall. Long instruments, such as forceps and scissors, are then inserted into the abdomen via additional tiny incisions in order to carry out an operation. This procedure is becoming increasingly common. The advantages include smaller incisions and shorter stays in hospital. Surgeons need to learn different basic surgical skills for this technique.


Many budding surgeons find the computer simulators used to improve laparoscopic skills boring and monotonous. Cutting Edge has now developed a special video game called Underground, which provides a more dynamic, cheaper and more attractive way for surgeons to practise. Jalink wanted to discover whether this game was suitable for training the movements needed for laparoscopic procedures and whether it had a positive effect on the users’ skills.

His first finding was that the game mimics the way that laparoscopic instruments move and is therefore suitable for training the skills needed to use them. He also showed that someone with good laparoscopic skills was visibly better at playing the game, and vice versa.

Game Over

In another part of his research, Jalink explored whether the video game was a good way for surgeons to ‘warm up’. This turned out to be the case; surgeons who had played the game for fifteen minutes went on to complete a number of standard tests faster and with fewer mistakes than surgeons who had not ‘warmed up’ on the game. Jalink thinks that experts in laparoscopic surgery would therefore benefit from warming up with the game Underground.

Jalink argues the case for more research on the long-term effects of training with serious games. ‘This will show us whether games can also be used to train other surgical techniques’. He advises against using the games as an assessment tool in the training programme: ‘Nobody wants to fail professionally on the strength of a low game score or a “Game Over” screen.’

Curriculum Vitae

Maarten Jalink MSc (Winschoten, 1988) studied Medicine at the University of Groningen. He conducted his PhD research in the Department of Surgery at the UMCG. His thesis is entitled: ‘Validation of a video game made for training laparoscopic skills’. He is currently working as a resident in the Academisch Ziekenhuis Paramaribo in Suriname.

Source: press release UMCG/RUG

[i] Cutting Edge is a partnership between UMCG, Grendel Games game designer and LIMIS (Leeuwarden Institute for Minimally Invasive Surgery); it was founded for the specific purpose of developing this game.

Last modified:12 March 2020 9.49 p.m.
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