A couple of times a week Calvin Stengs steers his blue spaceship through empty space, avoiding swarming red enemy craft, and fires a glowing yellow hexagon at a fluorescent green panel. On weekends, the 18-year-old strides across a green field, dodging opposition players, and shoots a white ball at the rectangular mouth of a soccer goal. Stengs is a striker at AZ Alkmaar, a Dutch soccer team that plays in the country’s top division, the Eredvisie. Soccer is his career, but space captain is more than just a hobby.
Video games might be the future of soccer. But that doesn’t mean EA’s FIFA series or any of the computer programs fueling eSports. The game Stengs plays—IntelliGym—isn’t supposed to be fun, or to look much like real life, but to train his cognitive skills: how quickly he can anticipate plays, how well he can recognize movement patterns and keep track of multiple players at the same time, how quickly he can mentally switch from offense to defense, or vice versa, and how much memory space his brain has to process all of that.