A Little Videogaming is Actually Good for Children

  • potential (wellbeing) benefits for children who engage in low levels of daily video game play
  • downsides for children who play excessively
  • fears and hopes about effects of video gaming are exaggerated

Children and young teens who play “low levels” of video games each day (less than one hour) demonstrate better psychosocial adjustment when compared with children who do not play or engage in “high daily play” according to Dr Andrew Przybylski, a behavioural scientist working at Oxford. His paper, Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment, published in the current issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, argues that “low” engagement in video gaming provides children with higher life satisfaction whereas “high” engagement causes lower “externalising and internalising problems” (depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms, and withdrawal). In the paper, Przybylski asserts that video games should be thought of as a different form of toys and that:

like nondigitally mediated forms of child play, games may encourage child well-being and healthy social adjustment.

His research is drawn from a large representative sample (5,000 girls and boys between 10 and 15) of children (rather than undergraduates – which appear to have been a high proportion of previous studies) and is based on three hypotheses:

First, it was hypothesized that low levels of play would facilitate child adjustment. Re- search indicates that roughly half of young people are light players, that is, they regularly spend up to 1 hour each day playing games,1 less than one-third of their daily free time. Gaming at this low level may have many of the benefits identified in laboratory-based research without crowding out other rich developmental opportunities. Second, it was hypothesized that moderate levels of play may carry positive as well as negatives effects. Nearly one-third of children spend between 1 and 3 hours playing electronic games daily; this level of engagement consumes between one-third and one-half of adolescent free time. Moderate players may show higher levels of positive adjustment linked to the enhanced skills and social connections derived from play, yet they also exhibit negative adjustment from exposure to inappropriate game content compared with nonplayers. Finally, it was hypothesized that high levels of daily play would have broadly negative effects on psychosocial adjustment. Roughly 10% to 15% of young people invest more than half of their free time, .3 hours each day, playing a pro- portion of the population who may have a problematic relationship with gaming. Heavy players may miss important developmental opportunities avail- able to nonplayers and may be at greater risk for encountering inap- propriate experiences that overshadow the potential upsides of gaming. To capture representative effects of electronic play these hypotheses were tested considering children’s use of 2 dominant gaming mediums: Console- based games (eg, Nintendo Wii) and computer-based games (eg, personal computer).

Przybylski discusses his findings in the paper and suggests that two of the three hypotheses proved correct but “moderate players did not differ from their non playing peers”. The most interesting results are that for “low”-level players:

This pattern of results supports the idea that electronic play has salutary functions similar to traditional forms of play; they present opportunities for identity development as well as cognitive and social challenges. Furthermore, these results conceptually replicate re- cent laboratory-based studies suggest- ing games have beneficial effects.

Also that video gaming is not one of the major factors affecting children’s well-being when

compared with factors shown to have robust and enduring effects on child well-being such as family functioning, social dynamics at school, and material deprivations, the current study suggests the influences of electronic gaming, for good or ill, are not practically significant.

He does point out that there was no evidence for belief in the “transformative nature of gaming”.