With an estimated 90% of children and adolescents playing video games (Lenhart et al.2008), the impacts that video games have on users is a fierce and ongoing debate in academic literature. There is a wealth of literature that reveals that there are both positive and negative outcomes associated with gaming.
Some academics hold the perspective that gaming is a modern form of play and should be considered as a contemporary means of psychosocial development. With the increasing social connectivity built into modern video games, playing online provides an opportunity to connect and cooperate with peers. Social connection is an often cited as a positive outcome for users. Yet, researchers have discovered various other benefits too.
Playing ‘shooter’ games has been shown to promote some specific cognitive skills. This is likely to do with the visually rich environments and rapid attentional demands within modern games. Recent literature has shown that ‘shooter’ video games have been associated with enhanced attention allocation and enhanced spatial abilities (Green & Bavelier, 2012; Uttal et al., 2013). These cognitive benefits remained over time and generalized to other contexts. Gamers that are strong in these cognitive skills are advantaged academically in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) (Wai, Lubinski, Benbow, & Steiger, 2010).
Another - admittedly more speculative - area of benefit relates to motivation. A recent study (Ventura et al., 2013) found that the extent of video game use significantly predicted how long participants would demonstrate persistence in attempting to solve difficult puzzles.
Many psychologists and educators are familiar with Carol Dweck’s seminal ‘Growth Mindset’ philosophy which posits that persistence and continual effort are key to success (Dweck & Molden, 2005). The finding by Ventura and colleagues (2013) links to the ideas purported by Dweck and is particularly interesting in light of the popularity of the recently released videogame, Fornite.
In Fortnite, success involves outlasting other players. With the likelihood of winning being small, a substantial amount of persistence and determination is required for players who seek to win. Some researchers speculate that players of video games, such as Fortnite, can develop a ‘persistent motivational style’ which may have beneficial generalized effects in school or work contexts. Though this relationship is merely correlational and needs further empirical evidence.
A final benefit, which is more robustly researched, is that of social benefits. Research has found that video game players can develop prosocial skills when they play games that are designed to reward effective cooperation, support, and helping behaviours (Ewoldsen et al., 2012).
The critical dimension that seems to determine whether video games are associated with helping and prosocial behaviour is the extent to which they are played cooperatively versus competitively.
A day spent searching for research papers debating the negative impacts of gaming would yield dozens of papers with wide ranging and opposing findings. Thankfully, we have meta-analyses. Meta-analyses are a type of research review that combines the findings of many other studies. Further, we have great research bodies that do meta-analyses of other meta-analyses, combining the results of hundreds of individual studies.
One such research body is the American Psychological Association who has recently released a major review of research into the impact of violent video games. To conduct their review, the APA contacted approximately 130 of the most frequently published researchers and experts in the field of gaming and requested nominations of the 10 strongest empirically based studies on this topic. This process yielded four meta-analyses which took into account more than 150 individual studies.
The review produced robust evidence that violent video game exposure was associated with increased aggressive behavior and increased aggressive thoughts. The review also clearly evidenced that video game exposure produced desensitization to violence and decreased empathy. The review concluded that violent video game use is a risk factor for adverse outcomes.
There are also factors that have been found to influence and interact with the development of aggression in gamers. Some researchers have suggested that it is the competitive features of certain games that produce the aggressive effects (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011). As mentioned above, this is contrary to cooperative games that can have prosocial benefits.
Past research has identified a number of risk factors that can moderate and influence the development of aggression, such as: pre-existing aggressive traits, low socioeconomic status, harsh parental discipline practices and experiences of peer rejection and bullying (Dodge, Coie, & Lynam, 2006; Herrenkohl et al., 2000). The APA review was able to determine that in the majority of studies, even after these factors were controlled for, violent video games still independently predicted aggression. Existing research suggests that higher amounts of exposure are associated with higher levels of aggression and other adverse outcomes. The conclusions of the APA review relate to children, adolescents and young adults.
This is far from an exhaustive list of outcomes that result from gaming. The intention of this paper is to inform the public of a range of valid findings from either side of the debate.
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