Twelve hours of gaming achieved more than a year of reading development and was as effective as the best remedial treatments, scientists found.
Lessons learned from the research could “drastically” reduce the incidence of reading disorders, they said.
Two groups of 10 young children with dyslexia took part in the research.
Both had their reading, verbal and attention skills tested before and after they played action or non-action video games.
After nine 80-minute sessions, only the action games produced significant benefits. Children playing the games were able to read faster without losing accuracy, and showed gains in tests of visual attention.
The improvements were greater than those normally seen after a year of “spontaneous” reading development without treatment, and equal or better than the results of “highly demanding traditional reading treatments”.
Video games are thought to affect visual attention pathways in the brain which may influence reading ability, said the researchers.
Action games in particular involved rapidly moving objects and transient events that imposed a demanding workload. This in turn could improve the efficiency of certain brain pathways.
The findings are reported in the journal Cell Biology.
Dr Andrea Facoetti, from the University of Padua in Italy, said: “Action video games enhance many aspects of visual attention, mainly improving the extraction of information from the environment.
“Dyslexic children learned to orient and focus their attention more efficiently to extract the relevant information of a written word more rapidly.”
The scientists wrote: “Our findings... pave the way for low-resource-demanding early prevention programmes that could drastically reduce the incidence of reading disorders.”
However, Dr Facoetti stressed that the results “don’t put us in a position to recommend playing video games without any control or supervision”.