David Collins

Positive Effects of Video Games

Ever since video games have been introduced to mainstream culture (and even before), they have come under constant fire by critics for being too violent, causing addictions, causing kids to become more aggressive and violent and training kids to kill. However, all these accusations bear some questions to mind: First, how accurate are these claims? Surely there is some bias against video games by the news media, seeing as they report nothing but negative information about video games. Second, are there any positive effects of video games? Everybody has heard that video games improve your reaction time and improve your "twitch reflexes," but are there any real positive effects of video game play, ones that have some real-world value? Actually, despite all the accusations and all the negatives of video games, there are many positive effects video games have on people. Some of these are educational, others are psychological, and still others can be used for real-world value.

However, before we analyze the effects of video game play, we must first take into account the number of people who partake in regular video game play, for only then can we understand how widespread these effects are, and how common video game play is. Even starting at three years old, boys have been found to play about ten minutes of video games every twenty-four hours. At six years old, girls have started playing more, with about fifteen minutes of game play every twenty-four hours, and boys having played forty minutes. At nine years old, boys play about seven hours every week, and girls play four hours and thirty minutes in the same time period. However, as they get older, game play decreases some in both genders, with thirteen-year old girls playing roughly two hours every week, and boys playing a little less than four hours every week (Barnett).

Also, the number of gamers has greatly increased over the past years. According to a study done by the University of Ohio, "Nine out of ten children play video games, and sixty-four percent of all American children play at least one hour a day" (Ohio). Broadening the age range to include teenagers, we find that the majority (fifty-five percent) of boys and twenty-three percent of girls play video games on a daily basis, showing that video games have truly become mainstream (Barnett).

Besides differences in play times, males and females have different tastes in video game genres. While males typically play games with more realistic violence, preferring games such as Doom, Gears of War, Metal Gear Solid, and Grand Theft Auto, females show more of an affinity to games with fantasy violence, like Tales of Symphonia, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts (Barnett). Another study shows that among children, the most popular video games are the ones with fantasy violence, which was preferred by thirty-two percent of participants, sports games such as Madden, Fight Night, and Tony Hawk and fighting games such as Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and Soul Calibur were preferred by twenty-nine percent of the participants.

The positive effects video games have on people, as stated previously, are broad and include educational, psychological, and physical benefits. The physical effects are the ones you hear the most about, pretty much all of them being that video games "allow for the development of hand-eye coordination," and can greatly increase your reaction time (Ohio). However, the effects are far more than that, as demonstrated through several recent studies.

Recently, researchers at the University of Rochester discovered in a study that people who play video games for a few hours each day on a regular basis have better visual acuity (the ability to identify cluttered images better) than those who do not. The study had a group of college students who had little experience with video games play action video games daily for a month. After thirty hours of game play, the subjects showed substantial improvement in the spatial resolution of their vision (meaning they could isolate images easier), and their visual acuity improved by twenty percent over the course of the test (Learning Business). In addition, the researchers discovered that video game players "were better at monitoring what was going around them than those who didn't play," meaning that they had better peripheral vision (Sohn). Another piece of information found that visual attention is improved through video game play (Nwazota).

In addition, surgeons who play video games have better surgical skills. According to a study done by Beth Israel Medical Center, "playing video games has a positive effect on laparoscopic surgeons and could be used as a teaching aid," and that "dopamine, which is released during game play, helps to establish learning pathways". The study had thirty-three surgeons take place in a program for laparoscopic skills and suturing, then complete three video game exercises, after which they would fill out a survey. The study found that those who played video games did far better than those who did not, with "thirty-seven percent fewer errors and twenty-seven percent faster completion times". Overall, those who played video games did "forty-two percent better if they played for at least three hours a week," and "thirty-three percent better overall for those who played normally" (Mutter).

In addition to the physical benefits, there are also psychological benefits to playing video games. These range from the findings that "two-player games… provide a releasing effect and reduce the level of aggression in children's play," to the findings that children with ADHD and other disorders that make social interaction a challenge for a child (Ohio).

One of the most important psychological effects of video game play is that video game play can benefit children's psychological health. According to Erna Fishhaut, "'Video Games promote a feeling of mastery,'" and can "give a child intellectual confidence and help increase his or her motivation level" (Reagor et al). In addition, "They have been seen to help build self-confidence in the ordinary child," and "give the child a sense of accomplishment." In addition, "children who see themselves as failures also receive benefit from playing video games, because they provide the player with a sense of participation and excitement in basic life-like situations" (Ohio). These all are great things for children to have when growing up, and are all provided by video games.

Another psychological benefit of video games is that they can help children diagnosed with disorders such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, which make it harder for them to socially interact with their peers, perform better in social situations. In fact, "video games have been implemented into therapy for these types of children". The reason for this "might lie in their interactive nature. Players don't just sit and watch. They get to participate in the action and solve problems" (Sohn). Because of this, "Kids diagnosed with ADHD because they can't pay attention will sit for nine straight hours on the computer". Also, as "video games furthermore 'empower' certain children who have a difficult time in social situations," this can greatly help them, since "video games mimic social structure," and some games, such as "The Sims" are built around social themes, these games can help teach children who have a small amount of social skills how to function better in society and that "a child who is an outcast may gain social standing because he is a video game aficionado," (Ohio).

More than that, though, many critics want to see how video games affect the ordinary person, and whether or not they have any solid teachings for the average child. Many games, such as Madden NFL 07, have great educational value for its players. In its Franchise mode, it has the player be the owner of a football team, and gives them the responsibilities of one, having them draft rookies in the NFL Draft, setting salaries for its players, signing free agents, trading players, and even has three "Storyline" features- reading the papers, listening to the radio, and checking messages from the General Manager, players, and the "research department," who notifies the owner of developments in the NFL, such as who will be in the Pro Bowl. More than that, the game also has the player act as accountant, setting prices for the stadium's features from parking to hot dogs, the coach, determining what to practice on for this week's game, what to focus on for the next one, and decide the plays the team will make during a game. This mode even allows for the player to control one of the players, making the mode all that much more fun. This can encourage a player who has never even looked at a newspaper go straight for the sports section and follow the current sports season out of pure interest.

Other than that, there are video games that have a focus of teaching the player, ones that will help the player educationally, specifically children who are still in grammar school. These games include Age of Empires, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and SimCity. In fact, "researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have started a project they describe as the 'Education Arcade.' The project brings together researchers, scholars, game designers and others interested in developing and using computer games in the classroom". Even better, "Some kids already go to educational Web sites where they can interact with other kids and help solve problems. At Whyville ( for example, kids from all over the world can chat, build an online identity, and learn math and science as they roam a virtual world," (Ohio).

Even in non-educational games, children can learn valuable information. In many older games, such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), and even some new ones, such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006), the story of the game is told in text rather than voice acting, even though the technology is perfectly capable of using it. This makes the players read what the screen says in order to understand what is going on in the world, rather than listen to characters talking. This has many benefits to the player, making them better readers, increasing their vocabulary, even stimulating their imagination, as they will probably create in their own minds what the character sounds like. Even if there is a word that confuses them, they will likely look it up in a dictionary or ask a parent about it. In fact, even with voice acting children can find a word that interests them. This is helped by the fact that many video games, like movies, offer subtitles for the viewer to read during a cutscene (a short movie in a video game). Although many may say that children can get the same effect from reading a book, just ask a child which they would rather do: play a video game or read a book. The answer will be almost one hundred percent "video game."

However, many people claim that what video games teach have little effect on how the child does outside of and after they graduate from school. In other words, that the games have no "real-world value." However, games have tremendous "real-world value," "for whenever one plays a game, and whatever game one plays, learning happens continuously, whether or not the players want it to, and are aware of it, or not. And all the players are learning 'about life,' which is one of the greatest positive consequences of all game playing. This learning takes place, continuously, and simultaneously in every game, every time one plays. One need not even pay much attention." Prensky further explains that this learning that is taking place while playing video games takes place on multiple levels, "the 'How', 'What', 'Why', 'Where', and 'When/Whether', levels of game learning." The "How" is "how the various characters, pieces, or anything else operate and what you can make them do" (Prensky). The "How" is reflected in the real world by teaching you how to do things in the game and, in many cases, real life. Since the game "Metal Gear Solid" is based heavily on stealth, someone who plays that frequently will be better at sneaking around than someone who has no experience. Also, using the prior example of Madden 07, someone who has played that game frequently will be as knowledgeable about football as someone who watches football on television, and will be able to make accurate predictions as of how the football season will go.

The "What" level is "what to do in any particular game (and, more importantly, what not to do). In other words, the rules" (Prensky). The "What" is reflected in the real world when players question whether or not something is possible, or how things are different in video games and real life. Using the Madden 07 example, a player may wonder how common some injuries are, research them, and learn what exactly causes them, how serious they can be, and how easy it is to get injured in that way. Using this knowledge, they will devise strategies that will result in fewer injuries for their players.

The next level, the "Why" level, is "the strategy of a game" (Prensky). The "Why" is reflected in the real world when a game player uses basic tactics of a video game in an everyday situation such as when to challenge a potential opponent, and when to concede. In the military, soldiers often use tactics on the battlefield that they learned from playing SOCOM. In Madden 07, a player, after evaluating a situation, will choose the play that they think will work best for them based on their players' abilities, what the opponent will likely do, and the different environmental aspects. They will likely also use this information in a pick-up game of football to make the best play and, hopefully, score.

The penultimate level, "Where", "is the 'context' level, as in learning about 'where you are.' It encompasses the huge amount of cultural and environmental learning that goes on in video and computer games," (Prensky). This level is reflected in the real world by teaching players that in video games, there are many different cultures and ways of life, just as there are here. Madden 07 players learn this while playing a game that shows a culture where people are paid millions of dollars just to appear in a few commercials, getting injured is good reason to get fired, and everything depends on winning a game.

The last level of learning is "When/Whether." "This is the level where game players learn to make value-based and moral decision- decisions about whether something is right or wrong" (Prensky). This level is reflected in the real world in that when you do something bad in a video game, something bad will happen to you. In GTA, killing somebody will get the police after you. In Perfect Dark, killing a civilian will cause you to fail the mission, forcing you to restart it. In Madden 07, the player will learn this lesson at a much more reduced rate, but will still feel the effects of violating the rules, as you do get penalized for encroachment, roughing the catcher, face masking, and all sorts of other things that are looked down upon in real life.

The final things that children learn from video games are the skills that they will end up using in the "real world" are the skills they pick up from just playing video games. "Some such skills include problem-solving abilities, perseverance, pattern recognition, hypothesis testing, estimating skills, inductive skills, resource management, logistics, mapping, memory, quick thinking, and reasoned judgments" (Ohio). As Mitch Wade, an information consultant for companies like Google, says, "'It's not the button-pushing that's important… it's the problem solving. And we saw that when we surveyed professionals who grew up playing video games. What's a surprise is that they're better at things you need in business- like team play and careful risk-taking." Because of this, "smart businesses are learning to take advantage of these skills."

There are many people who claim that video games are nothing but bad, and a few even claim that they teach the players how to kill, sometimes going so far as to claim that they "train the players how to aim and shoot a gun to kill innocent pedestrians". Though many of these claims are easily debunked, there are still some valid claims. Many video games do have a high degree of violence and other content inappropriate for young children. However, the positive effects are omnipresent in video games, unlike the problematic content. Parents can and should act to regulate what games their children are playing. If they believe that their seven year-old child should not play violent video games, then they can prevent their child from playing those games. Though there are some differences in games and the level and type of benefits given, all games have positive content, and the ones that have the most benefit are almost always appropriate for children to play. As long as the parents check the games their children are playing for content and time, video games should be embraced as something that will enrich their children's lives, not consume it. Video games truly are one of the greater creations of humankind; it may just take a while for us to accept it. After all, as the great Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of vide game franchises such as Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda, once said, "Video games are bad for you? Isn't that what they said about rock n' roll?"