Academic Effects of Video Game Playing on Children
By John Lister
Studies of the effects of video games on children's academic performance give a mixed signal. Some studies that specifically track test results have shown an apparent link between increased gaming and decreased academic performance. However, studies that track particular skills that could be used in academic work sometimes show gaming to be beneficial. This apparent contradiction is largely caused by the complexity of analyzing games and the difficulty of conducting controlled experiments on children.
A study at Denison University found that boys given a PlayStation 2 console for four months scored lower on a series of academic tests than those who did not have the consoles in their homes. It also found that teachers were more likely to report academic problems among students with the consoles. However, this did not appear to be a direct result of the game playing itself. Instead, it may have been because students with the console spent less time on academic activities, such as homework, outside of school.
The Denison study found that the game players scored lower on reading and writing tests. However, it didn't record any effect on math performance. Neither did it affect problem-solving skills. It wasn't clear if this was because the game playing in some way helped with such skills, or if it was simply that literacy skills are more reliant on extra-curricular activity.
Iowa State psychology professor Douglas Gentile, who has carried out several studies on video gaming among children, says it isn't a simple case of games being good or bad. He says there are five different factors in play. These are: how long children play games, what type of games they play, what type of input controls the game uses, the structure of the game, and the context in which game events take place and have consequences. Because of this, Gentile argues, it is common and understandable that the same game could appear to affect young players in different ways.
Studies of the effects of video games on children are often more limited than other studies, such as medical studies on adults. This is because it can be harder to create controlled studies. In this case, studies in which playing or not playing video games is the only significant difference between the children in the study. In reality many other factors can affect academic performance, so it can be difficult to isolate the effects of the games. Another problem is that unlike giving controlled levels of drugs in a clinical trial, researchers usually aren't able to control the amount of time a child plays games during the course of the study. Instead they have to work backwards, finding children who already have spent a particular amount of time gaming.
A professional writer since 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, John Lister ran the press department for the Plain English Campaign until 2005. He then worked as a freelance writer with credits including national newspapers, magazines and online work. He specializes in technology and communications.