Children who play video games in moderation are more sociable, less aggressive, have fewer emotional problems and do better at school than their peers, Oxford University research has shown.
However those playing video games for more than three hours a day are hyperactive, get into fights and switch off at school, no matter what the type of game they use. The ground-breaking study suggested excessive use, rather than any particular game, did the most damage.
Children who played less than an hour a day performed and behaved better than classmates who never used video games, according to the analysis of teachers.
Academics said they could make links between some types of games and children’s behaviour, but that these effects were only positive and applied only if played in moderation.
Parents who believe that playing puzzle and strategy games can help their children’s academic achievement may be disappointed – the research showed such pupils did no better than their classmates. That does not, in any way, mean that children who indulge in games such as sudoku do not develop any cognitive skills. Puzzle games can actually help a child develop critical and logical thinking, while also helping in memory and focus to an extent.
Children playing exploration games, such as Zelda: Twilight Princess, appeared to do better academically and emotionally. Those playing cooperative games such as Minecraft and Team Fortress, did no better academically, but were more sociable and had good emotional health.
No one game had a negative impact. Researchers could find no link between playing violent games and real-life aggression.
Instead they found that low levels of play – less than an hour a day – might actually benefit behaviour, while excessive use – three hours or more – made behaviour deteriorate.
Academics from the Oxford Internet Institute studied more than 200 children aged 12 and 13 at a school in south east England.
Dr Andy Przybylski, the lead author, said: “We haven’t focused on how children see themselves, which is typically how studies are done, but on what their teachers think about their performance and behaviour over the last six months.
“We controlled for the children’s gender and family and socio-economic background. Compared with young people who don’t play at all and those who played a lot, those who played in moderation were less hyperactive and had fewer problems.
“We didn’t find any negative links with any particular games but some positive ones. Those playing competitive and cooperative games did slightly better socially, as were those playing single-player games.
“Puzzle games and ‘brain-training’ games didn’t have any connection to anything – some people have argued they are good for young people, the equivalent to doing a crossword puzzle, but the sociability and grades of players were no higher than their peers.
“We can see links between some types of games and children’s behaviour, as well as time spent playing.”
Dr Przybylski said it was important to stress: “We cannot say that game play causes good or bad behaviour. We also know that the risks attached to game-playing are small.
“A range of other factors in a child’s life will influence their behaviour more as this research suggests that playing electronic games may be a statistically significant but minor factor in how children progress academically or in their emotional wellbeing.”
Teachers reported whether the 200 pupils in the study group were helpful, their academic achievements, and whether they were rowdy or likely to get into fights .The pupils involved in the study were numbered so their personal identities were not revealed to the researchers.
These assessments were matched with the responses to a questionnaire that asked each of the pupils in the study how long they played games each day and the type of games they preferred. The choice given was to play solo, offline competitive team games, online cooperative and competitive games, combat and violence, puzzles and strategy, and games to do with sport and racing.