The effects of video games: A guide for the science-minded

© 2010 – 2014, Gwen Dewar, all rights reserved

What are the effects of video games?

Video games are highly interactive and adaptive, and often induce a sense of psychological “flow” in players — that sense of effortless concentration that makes time fly.

Such features make for compelling entertainment, and promising educational applications. But they might also lead some players to spend too much time on the couch. And there is also the worry that the content of certain video games–particularly those with violent themes–might have a negative effect on behavior.

But what’s proven, what’s conjecture, and what’s hype?

In these pages, I review studies concerning the possible effects of video games–good and bad. Currently, these articles include the following:

The possible benefits of video games

  • Educational video games is a look at the very limited research addressing the use of video games as tutorials and instructional drills. In this article, I also provide a list of links to free online games designed by educational organizations.

  • “Playing helper and hero” considers an interesting experiment designed to test whether role-playing simulation games make people more willing to take risks and help people in trouble.

The possible negative effects of gaming

  • “The effects of video games on school achievement” discusses links between game-playing and poor academic performance in school. As I note in this article, there’s no reason to think that gaming is intrinsically harmful. Rather, it appears that games displace time spent on homework and studying.
  • “The effects of violent video games” explores the controversy about violent content: Does it contribute to aggressive behavior or anti-social attitudes? The evidence is mixed, and the case against violent games may be overblown. But intriguing experiments suggest that games do have an immediate, unpleasant impact on our attitudes.

In addition, I’ve written about the mixed effects that video games may have on children’s attention skills:

The effects of video games: Other resources

Psychologist Craig A. Anderson has spent many years studying the effects of video games. His academic webpage includes links to a variety of articles, reports, and interviews on the subject.

Anderson’s colleague, Douglas A. Gentile, has created an excellent public website devoted to his research on the effects of the media–including video games–on behavior.