A meta-study carried out by the American Psychological Association has claimed that playing computer games has many positive effects on children and, in some cases, the more violent the game the more beneficial the effect.
The research, published in the latest issue of American Psychologist, found that modern video games are much more socially orientated, thanks to the growth on massive online gaming environments, and that certain types of game can help kids learn problem-solving skills and creativity.
"Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression and aggression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored," said lead author Isabela Granic PhD, of Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. "However, to understand the impact of video games on children's and adolescents' development, a more balanced perspective is needed."
The biggest surprise in the paper was that randomized, double-blind trials with young games found that a few rounds of a first–person shooter showed they developed faster reaction times, higher spatial resolutions, and "enhanced mental rotation facilities" – meaning the ability to visualize shapes from different angles.
One of the studies cited in this conclusion came from a 25-year study following child gamers worldwide, and found that these specific skill sets were good indicators for success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills – more so than academic courses in some respects.
In addition, games that encourage players to work as a team to achieve a task such as World of Warcraft or Farmville can be very beneficial in building up social skills and reduce aggression, both during the game and after play has finished.
The paper notes that games such as Angry Birds that can be started and played quickly help relieve anxiety and reduce stress, and bring about a more positive mental state. They may also promote "emotional resilience."
"If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider," said Granic.
Surprisingly, games marketed as "brain trainers" show very little evidence of improving cognition and problem-solving skills. The paper notes that this may be down to the fact that most are designed by medical practitioners, teachers and researchers, who don't make particularly efficient games developers. ®