New research shows that a 15-minute video game may help slash U.S. cardiovascular mortality by teaching children how to recognize and respond to a stroke, providing further evidence that, in 2014, electronic entertainment is rapidly becoming an indispensable form of educational media.

Dr. Olajide Williams, an associate professor of neurology at Columbia University and lead author of a new study, said in a press release that kids who play “Stroke Hero” become significantly more likely to identify an incident at home or in public. "We need to educate the public, including children, about stroke, because often it's the witness that makes that 9-1-1 call; not the stroke victim,” he explained. “Sometimes, these witnesses are young children."

The game, which is available for free through Hip Hop Public Health, has the player navigate a “spaceship” within an artery. The goal is to shoot down blood clots with clot-busting drugs. When the player runs out of ammo, she must answer a stroke awareness question in order to reload and proceed.

For the study, the researchers invited 210 9- and 10-year-olds from low-income families in the Bronx, N.Y., to partake in an experiment. First, they used a hypothetical scenario to test whether the participants would be able to spot a stroke and call 911. The children were then asked to play a round of Stroke Hero and assess the hypothetical situation one more time. Finally, the team gave the children the opportunity to play the game at home and return seven weeks later for a third look at the hypothetical stroke.

The findings, which are published in the journal Stroke, show that children who played the video game were 33 percent more likely to recognize a stroke and call 911. These kids were shown to have retained these skills at the 7-week follow-up. In addition, participants who had played the game at home in the intervening weeks performed 18 percent better compared to children who had only played the game for one session.

Saving Lives with Video Games

Cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke are currently the leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 600,000 people each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that is about one-fourth of all fatalities. On average, deaths and illnesses associated with coronary heart disease cost the nation $109 billion annually.

The current study is the latest in a growing series of efforts to illuminates the many benefits video games can have for public health and general wellness. Another example is a study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development showing that your Xbox, Playstation, or Nintendo may actually help your brain grow. Many researchers hope that studies like this will help the public understand that, in 2014, video games are not necessarily a complete waste of time.

"Video games are fun, widely available, and accessible for most children," Williams told reporters. "Empowering every potential witness with the knowledge and skills required to make that life-saving decision if they witness a stroke is critical."

Source: Williams O, Hecht M, DeSobro AL, Huq S, Noble JM. Stroke Hero. Stroke. 2014.