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Thursday, December 5, 2013

You're probably wrong about violent video games

You often hear politicians talk about the consequences of playing video games, especially for young people. And there have been a lot of studies looking for the negative effects of violent video games. However, according to Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel and Rutger Engels of Radboud University Nijmegen, that’s only half the story. They asked ‘where are all the studies looking for the positive effects of video games?’ Well, seek and ye shall find.

Children playing video games inside a video game truck
Gamesingear, 27 March 2012.

The authors combed through the literature and put together a summary of their findings. It turns out that modern video games can offer people a lot of benefits. People who regularly played video games showed greater cognitive gains compared to non-players, and showed greater motivation and resilience. 

Here were the results I found most surprising:

The more video games children played, the greater improvements they saw in problem solving skills, mood control and even in their school grades.

Playing violent games cooperatively led to more positive social behaviors both in the games and in real life than playing nonviolent games. Apparently, there are lessons to be learned from working together to steal cars or kill zombies.

People who played shooter games showed greater cognitive gains than people who played puzzle or role-playing games. I would have thought the latter two types of games called for more thinking skills. I suppose that just goes to show how little I know about shooter games.

Before you convince yourself that a seventh straight hour of World of Warcraft is in everyone’s best interests, I feel compelled to point out a few things. 

First, the authors began their research with the clear intention of finding the benefits of video games. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what they found. Some studies have contradicted these findings. Nevertheless, there were enough positive outcomes to show that violent video games have been unduly vilified.

Second, video games are extremely diverse, not only in content and complexity, but also in how socially they can be played (cooperatively, competitively or alone). This makes it difficult to say anything definitive about video games as a genre.

To quote from a paper by Daphne Bavelier

One can no more say what the effects of video games are, than one can say what the effects of food are. 

Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, & Rutger Engels (2013). The benefits of playing video games American Psychologist DOI: 10.1037/a0034857.

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