Violent Video Games Actually Make Kids...Smarter?

It's not much of a leap of logic to think that playing as a super-soldier or trained killer might tend to wear down one's mind a bit. After all, we've always been possessed of the notion that violent media ultimately leads to violent behavior - whether that's true or not. Excessive gaming, we've been told, can lead to antisocial behavior, depressing, anxiety, and poor physical health.

Makes sense, right? 

Turns out, we're not seeing the full picture here.  According to a new Israeli study, video games are actually good for children, at least in moderation. The research, which was carried out by the Center for Educational Technology, found that video games are actually beneficial to children. That's a pretty significant departure from our current line of thinking, isn't it?

The study, which involved over 1,000 adolescents and children aged six to eighteen concluded that video games ultimately lead to improved learning, cognitive, and interpersonal abilities, along with co-ordination. In other words, the exact opposite of what we thought they would lead to. In particula, explained researcher Avi Warshavsky, games are important because they teach kids how to fail. 

"A game is a place where you can learn failure, because you can lose a game. Failure is part of the picture. In school, they try to teach us the opposite. We're not supposed to fail. We have to get good grades. And here there's a psychological atmosphere that encourages second chances, which is much healthier because it reflects real life."


"A violent game is not the big dramatic thing we imagine it to be. If you go into a toy store, you'll see a lot of toys that promote violence. The difference between a game that is physically violent and one that is digitally violent is that in the digital world, a lot of positive things are also being learned," added Warshavsky. 

A separate meta-study carried out earlier in the week found that, in some cases, the more violent a video game was, the more kids benefitted from playing it. 

The article, which was published in the latest issue of American Psychologist, found that modern video games are more socially orientated thanks to the growth of the Internet, and that certain games actually lead to better problem solving skills and increased creativity.

"Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression, and agression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored," said Isabela Granic, PhD. "However, to understand the impact of video games on children and adolescents' development, a more balanced perspective is needed.

The article found that young gamers who played first-person shooters developed better spatial awareness, faster reaction times, and notable improvements in the ability to visualize shapes and objects. 

This wasn't just research carried out on a whim, either. One study in the paper followed child gamers across the world over the course of twenty-five years, and found that the skill-sets gained from video games were "good indicators of success in science, technology, engineering, and math"- in some regards, even more so than success in academia. 

Further, games such as World of Warcraft were found to be very beneficial in building up social skills and reducing aggression, both during and after play, while games such as Angry Birds can be used to relieve anxiety and reduce stress, promoting greater "emotional resilience." 

"If playing video games makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider," added Granic. 

Curiously enough, the benefits of these games didn't actually extend to titles marketed as "brain trainers." These titles showed very little evidence of improving either cognition or problem-solving ability. This may, remarks the paper, be due to the fact that such games are often designed by medical professionals, teachers, or researchers; none of whom make particularly effective game developers. 

So, there you have it.  Turns out all the doom-sayers bellowing about the evils of video games are just plain wrong. That isn't to say we shouldn't make sure our kids game in moderation. Like any hobby, playing video games excessively can definitely lead to reduced physical and mental health. So, while we shouldn't look on games as a terrible evil that's corrupting our youth, neither should we let them go completely unregulated.

Ultimately, what we need is balance. Don't sneer at your kid's wanting a few hours playing a shooter, but encourage them to go for a bike ride or play a game of soccer, as well. That, I think, is the best way to ensure healthy development.