Video Gaming Research

Video Gaming Research Reveals the Benefits of Play

Video gaming is the one form of entertainment that has grown rather than dwindled over the decades. For the most part, children cannot go outside and find others to play with freely, away from adults, as they once could; nevertheless, many of them can and do go online and play video games. These games have evolved to become more diverse, complicated, creative, and friendly. This is especially true now that multi-player internet games are becoming more popular. You could believe that the rise of video gaming is a cause of deterioration in psychological health if you accept the scare stories in the media. Still, as I’ve shown previously (e.g., here), the opposite may be true. Video gaming may be a mitigating influence, helping mitigate the negative impacts of the loss of traditional forms of play.

We should anticipate finding more mental health and social difficulties in video gamers than in otherwise identical people who are not gamers if video gaming impairs psychological wellbeing. If video gaming, like other types of play, enhances mental health, we should find that gamers are, on average, mentally healthier than non-gamers. Hundreds of research have already been conducted on the psychological correlates and repercussions, and the findings overwhelmingly support the notion that video gaming provides many of the same benefits as traditional forms of play. This is a summary of that research.

Cognitive Advantages

To date, the majority of video game research has focused on cognition. Young people who play video games have higher IQs and score better on several cognitive tests of perceptual and mental aptitude than non-gamers, according to correlational research. Furthermore, many studies have shown that when non-gamers take up gaming for the sake of the study, their cognitive capacities improve. I described several of those findings (here). More current research has verified and expanded on those findings.

Benoit Badiou and his colleagues (2018) evaluated all recent studies (published since 2000) on the cognitive impact of playing action video games in a recent paper in Psychological Bulletin. They discovered 89 correlational studies that linked the average number of hours spent playing action video games per week to one or more measures of cognitive ability, as well as 22 intervention studies (true experiments) in which non-gamers were asked to play action video games for a set number of hours per week for a set number of weeks, and were compared to other non-gamers on their degree of improvement on one or more cognitive tests over that time.

They discovered strong positive associations between gaming time and high scores on tests of vision, top-down attention, spatial cognition, multitasking, and cognitive flexibility (ability to switch methods rapidly when old ones don’t work) in their analysis of correlational research. They found that just 10 to 30 hours of video play throughout an experiment dramatically enhanced performance on vision, attention, spatial cognition, and cognitive flexibility tests.

Different types of video games, of course, test various mental capacities. In contrast to fast-paced action games, strategy role-playing and puzzle games require more contemplative problem-solving skills. According to correlational and longitudinal studies, playing these games enhances overall problem-solving abilities and may even result in higher academic marks (see Granic et al., 2014).

The majority of video game research has involved teenagers or young adults. Still, a large-scale study undertaken by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Mental Health looked into video gaming’s correlations in children aged 6 to 11. (Kovess-Masfety et al., 2016). In this study, 3195 children and their parents estimated how many hours they spent playing video games per week. In contrast, parents and teachers filled out questionnaires about each child’s cognitive, social, and emotional functioning. The main finding was that people who played video games for 5 hours or more per week had considerably better intellectual functioning, academic achievement, peer connections, and fewer mental health problems than people who played them less or not at all.

Benefits of Creativity

There has been little investigation exploring the probable links between video gaming and creativity to date. Research in Michigan by Linda Jackson and her colleagues (2012), in which 491 12-year-old students participated, is an exception. These researchers looked at how many hours per week each youngster spent playing video games and how much time they spent on their phones or the Internet when they weren’t playing games. They used the well-validated Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking to examine several facets of creativity in each child (see here for more on this battery of tests).

They discovered substantial positive connections between the amount of time spent playing video games and every facet of creativity measured by Torrance’s Tests, which were fairly large in certain cases and held regardless of the gender or race of the child. On the other hand, they discovered no significant links between creativity and non-gaming computer use.

Other studies have found strong positive connections between video gaming frequency and the personality trait of openness to new experiences (Chory & Goodboy, 2011), which is linked to creativity. The findings suggest that either highly creative children are drawn to video games or boost creativity (or both).

David Moffat and his colleagues (2017) looked at the immediate impact of video gameplay on creativity in a different kind of study. They used the Torrance Tests to test creative thinking in young people before and after 30 minutes of playing a computer game. Serious Sam (a shooter game), Portal-2 (a problem-solving match), or Minecraft were the games used by different groups (a sandbox game involving building and destroying whatever the player wishes).

Overall, there was a significant increase in creative thinking, particularly in the facet of creativity known as flexibility. The increase was seen in all three types of computer games, but it was most pronounced in Portal-2. This study demonstrates that even a little video gaming duration can induce a highly creative state of mind, at least briefly. This finding is comparable to previous studies showing that various types of play can also improve creativity (see Ch. 7 of Free to Learn; also Gray, 2018).

Benefits of Motivation

Video games are designed so that the level of difficulty can be gradually escalated, presenting players with more tough issues to complete. Persistence pays dividends in video games, according to many gamers themselves. If you keep trying and experimenting with different techniques, you will finally achieve your goal in the game.

Based on this, Matthew Ventura and his colleagues (2013) expected that gamers would be more tenacious in completing tough problems than non-gamers and less likely to quit early. In a second experiment with college students, they could corroborate this idea. They discovered that people who played video games for several hours per week persevered substantially longer in attempting to answer extremely difficult anagrams and riddles than those who played video games for less time or none at all. This increase in perseverance could explain the previously mentioned positive associations between video gaming and academic grades.

Emotional Advantages

The emotion regulation theory is a broad theory of play that I’ve covered in prior posts and publications (here and here). According to this idea, children (and other young mammals) purposefully put themselves in fear-inducing and sometimes frustration- or anger-inducing circumstances while playing, learning how to control their fear and fury in the process.

Many parents have told me that they limit their children’s video gaming because they see the intense excitement and emotions, including negative emotions, that the children experience during and sometimes after gaming, and they are concerned that this is harmful to their children. However, studies supporting the emotion regulation theory suggest that one of the primary purposes of play is to give children practice dealing with fear and anger in a reasonably safe environment (Gray, 2018).

Children learn to feel these emotions and then relax through play, and they are not required to panic or throw a tantrum. There is evidence that children who are “protected” from feeling such emotions in sport are less equipped to deal with the fear and anger-inducing circumstances that will inevitably arise in real life (see, for examples, here and here).

The findings (discussed previously) suggesting children who played video games for more than five hours a week had fewer mental health problems outside of play than children who played such games less or not at all supports the theory that video gaming helps children learn to regulate their emotions (Kovess-Masfety et al., 2016). Gamers frequently mention how video gaming helps them deal better with the stress and difficulties of their non-play lives in research. Individuals discuss their impressions of gaming’s benefits (see here and Granic et al., 2014).