By Amelia Yu, M.A., Pre-Doctoral Clinical Psychology Intern, Psychological Services
Children and adults have been playing games since recorded history. With advances in computer and mobile technology, and the widespread availability of Internet access, electronic gaming has become an increasingly mainstream leisure activity for children and adults alike. This meteoric rise of gaming popularity has generated mixed reactions from parents who are concerned about the impact that gaming can have on children.
PRESS START: Types of Games
The main platforms, or modalities, that electronic games can be played are on computers (PC gaming), phones (mobile gaming) and consoles (console gaming). Regardless of the game platform, games can be divided into two broad categories: single player and multiplayer. Within each category, games can be further categorized as either offline or online, with some requiring an Internet connection and crossing modalities.
Level 1: Gaming Culture
Gaming culture is a broad term that refers to the subculture that revolves around video games. With the wide variety and availability of games, it’s reported that 59% of Americans play games and the average U.S. household has at least 2 gamers3. The average age of someone who plays games is 31 years old3. Forty-eight percent of gamers are female3. It should be noted that these numbers may vary widely depending on the actual game genre.
Within the gaming culture, female gamers hold a complicated position. In terms of their representation in games, female characters are often in secondary roles and portrayed in oversexualized ways8,15. Recently, some games have made changes to reflect a growing female gamer population. Newer games have strong female protagonists. Other games are making headway on a variety of representations of the female body. In general, females tend not to disclose their identity as females, particularly in team-based games or over voice communications because they are treated differently than other male gamers.
Level 2: Impact of Gaming on Development
With the invention of touch-based devices such as the iPad, children are being exposed to electronic games at an earlier age. The effect that gaming has on child development is concern for most parents and caregivers.
Single player and multiplayer games teach the player the rewards of perseverance and practice. Competitive games in particular are a good arena for children to learn how to manage the negative emotions and thoughts that accompany losing. In research studies, teachers have indicated that children who play moderate amounts of single player or multiplayer video games demonstrate “lower levels of hyperactivity and conduct problems, fewer peer and emotional difficulties, as well as higher levels of active academic engagement”12. Additionally, those who play cooperative and competitive online games tend to be more “emotionally stable and had better relationships with classmates”12.
Despite the many positives that playing video games can provide, they can also be detrimental to a child’s social and emotional development when played in excess or used as the sole form of leisure activity with peers. Children who have anxieties in social situations may utilize gaming as a means of avoidance. Over-reliance on this method to cope with their social anxieties can lead to a negative cycle where children miss out on more and more opportunities for social interactions with peers. In addition, heavy involvement in gaming communities that do not promote socially adaptive behaviors can establish maladaptive social skills. When a child’s online game life becomes more meaningful than their life at school, in the home, or with friends, this can create situations where the child prioritizes gaming in a way that is maladaptive to their life, job or academics. The ways in which gaming can negatively impact children are not new, but are perhaps not always obvious in today’s culture..
- Playing violent video games can make children more violent
- There is lack of scholarly consensus regarding the relationship between violent video games and violent behaviors. Studies cite other factors such as social influences and family environment as having much more influential roles in children’s behaviors7,14,16.
- Playing video games makes children more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD/ADD.
- Currently, there is no evidence in the literature of any significant relationship between these two factors.
- Playing video games has a significantly negative impact on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental health, prosocial behavior and academic performance.
- A study of the current literature suggests that the effect that gaming has on these factors is minimal7.
Level 3: Role of Parents in Gaming
Parental control plays a pivotal role in what children take away from gaming. Parents can limit the types of games children are exposed to and set the structure for the role that games play in a child’s life. If parents or caregivers play games together with their children, they can model appropriate behaviors for their children. Parenting around games is similar to parenting around other leisure activities in a child’s life
Suggested Tips for Parents:
- Do your own research, or talk with your child, about the game he or she wants to play.
- Games have ratings the same way movies or TV shows have ratings. You can decide what level is appropriate for your child.
- Reviews and gameplay videos for most games can be found on YouTube or Twitch.tv.
- Play the game with your child!
- If your child will be playing a multiplayer online game, talk with your child about what information is safe and not safe to disclose online.
- For example, you should never tell anyone you meet online your personal passwords, name, birthday, address or phone number.
- Decide (or talk to your child) about the appropriate age and time frame to have access to voice communication within games and for talking to others on the Internet.
- If your child is female and old enough, you can have a conversation with her about the pros and cons of revealing her gender online.
- Set clear limits around the time and content of what you would want your child to be exposed to.
- Check that the time limits set are not random, but based around reasonable amounts of time.
- Some tips and explanations from parents who work in the gaming industry on how they set boundaries for their children around gaming:
- Adachi, P. J. C., & Willoughby, T. (2015). From the couch to the sports field: The longitudinal associations between sports video game play, self-esteem, and involvement in sports. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(4), 329–341.
- Bejjanki, V. R., Zhang, R., Li, R., Pouget, A., Green, C. S., Lu, Z.-L., & Bavelier, D. (2014). Action video game play facilitates the development of better perceptual templates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(47), 16961–16966.
- Ferguson, C. J. (2015). Do angry birds make for angry children? A meta-analysis of video game influences on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental health, prosocial behavior, and academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(5), 646–666.
- Kaye, L. K., & Pennington, C. R. (2016). “Girls can’t play”: The effects of stereotype threat on females’ gaming performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 59, 202–209.
- King, D. L., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2016). The Cognitive Psychopathology of Internet Gaming Disorder in Adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(8), 1635–1645.
- Kowert, R., Vogelgesang, J., Festl, R., & Quandt, T. (2015). Psychosocial causes and consequences of online video game play. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 51–58.
- Mihan, R., Anisimowicz, Y., & Nicki, R. (2015). Safer with a partner: Exploring the emotional consequences of multiplayer video gaming. Computers in Human Behavior, 44, 299–304.
- Przybylski, A. K., & Mishkin, A. F. (2016). How the quantity and quality of electronic gaming relates to adolescents’ academic engagement and psychosocial adjustment. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(2), 145–156.
- Snodgrass, J. G., Dengah, H. J. F., Lacy, M. G., Bagwell, A., Van Oostenburg, M., & Lende, D. (2017). Online gaming involvement and its positive and negative consequences: A cognitive anthropological “cultural consensus” approach to psychiatric measurement and assessment. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 291–302.
- Tear, M. J., & Nielsen, M. (2014). Video games and prosocial behavior: A study of the effects of non-violent, violent and ultra-violent gameplay. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 8–13.
- Vieira Jr, E. T. (2014). The relationships among girls’ prosocial video gaming, perspective-taking, sympathy, and thoughts about violence. Communication Research, 41(7), 892–912.
- DeCamp, W., & Ferguson, C. J. (2016). The impact of degree of exposure to violent video games, family background, and other factors on youth violence. Journal of youth and adolescence, 1-13.