Video Games can be good for you…wait, what?

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“You know what’s really exciting about video games is you don’t just interact with the game physically—you’re not just moving your hand on a joystick, but you’re asked to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally as well. You’re not just watching the characters on screen; you’re becoming those characters.”

—Nina Huntemann, Game Over


Due to the expanse and relative newness of technology, we often hear about the (very real) risks to children online, more than the benefits – particularly in the realm of online gaming.

The risks we know about, due to 5 decades of research:

  • Addictive / Pathological gaming – affects family, social interaction, schooling and psychological functioning (Anderson et al, 2012).
  • Attention deficits, impulsivity and hyperactivity are linked to (exacerbated by) the amount of time spent playing video games (Bailey et al, 2010; Swing et al, 2010; Gentile, 2009 & 2010).
  • Poor School Performance is affected by the amount of time spent playing online games, due to time displacement (Anderson & Warburton in Growing up Fast & Furious, 2012).
  • Time spent gaming as well as psychosocial factors such as impulsivity, social competence and emotional regulation all predicted the development of pathological gaming (Gentile et al, 2011).
  • 5 decades of experimental, cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have found that exposure to violent video games leads to increased aggression (Bartlett, Anderson & Swing, 2009).
  • 98% of paediatricians in the US believe violent media exposure to have a negative effect on childhood aggression.
  • Playing violent video games is a significant risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which lead to desensitisation to violence, increased positive attitudes toward violence and decrease in pro-social behaviours, such as empathy and helping (Prot et al, Children Adolescents & the Media, 2012), Anderson & Warburton, 2012).


Of course, not every child playing Grand Theft Auto is about to become a mass murder – it is far from simplistic.

There are obviously a number of factors combined i.e. social, behavioural, economic, biological and mental-health, playing their part in shaping the child.

Although, I am always interested in observing how children, on a steady diet of GTA, treat their siblings, mothers, peers and teachers, on a daily basis.

Just as children learn skills at home and on the playground, they learn multiple skills while playing games online.

The question to ask ourselves as parents is this,

“What skills are my children learning from this game?


 So what’s the good news?

There’s a teacher in your child’s pocket!

Educators have long recognised the potential of software and games to teach. Because games:

  • are motivating (and fun)
  • provide immediate feedback (and reward)
  • can adapt themselves to the level of the learner
  • provide repetition to the point of automaticity
  • encourage distributed learning
  • can teach for transfer of knowledge (into other contexts)
  • utilise many excellent teaching techniques
  • can improve self esteem and mood

(Gentile, D. A. & Gentile, J. R. (2008).  Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis.  Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 9, 127-141 )


Well-designed games are great teachers of Coordination and Spatial Cognition. Just ask your laparoscopic surgeon. Honestly!

A study indicated laparoscopic surgeons, who are gamers, are better at surgery. Video game skill correlates with laparoscopic surgical skills (Rosser et al., 2012). Games may also lead to better pilots in our skies. An early experimental study of Israeli Air Force cadets that trained using the game Space Fortress 2, had better subsequent flight performance. As a result, the game became a part of the training program of the Israeli Air Force.

So, think of Minecraft or Cut The Rope, as training ground for your little surgeon or pilot.

minecraftcut the rope

Of course many games and apps are designed purely with educational outcomes in mind (Times tables are a lot more fun in our house these days).

e.g. Spellosaur, Splash Math and Mathletics



The advent of Exergames (Wii Sport, Wii Fit, Just Dance) is a new avenue for bringing exercise into the lounge room (think Jane Fonda for the new generation).

just dance

Pro-social benefits

We have also discovered that pro-social games improve pro-social and helping behaviours, in both the long and short-term (Found in Singapore, Japan and the USA)

e.g Supermario Sunshine, Zoovet

Super_mario_sunshinezoo vet


Therapeutic benefits

We are only just beginning to see the therapeutic, rehabilitation and health-related benefits of gaming.

Children’s hospitals use games for pain management regulation. Games are also used to help patients manage chronic diseases, such as childhood cancer, diabetes and asthma (Science Translational Medicine, 2012)

Patient Empowerment Exercise Video Game (PE Game) designed in the US, is an activity-promoting game specifically designed to improve resilience, empowerment, and a ‘fighting spirit’ for pediatric oncology patients.

“If games like ours can help patients to feel better and motivate them to manage their health care or physical therapy, then I believe we will soon see the medical community saying, ’game on!” Prof. Roger Altizer, director of game design and production for the EAE program,


Gaming, being the subject of my PhD, has me fascinated by the work of Young and Well CRC. They have just launched their #gameon report, which supports the above mentioned studies of games-as-the-excellent-teacher.

‘Although we know that excessive gaming and violent gaming can have harmful effects on mental health, the positive side to gameplay can sometimes be overlooked.’ Young and Well CRC

Mental health benefits

‘Moderate gameplay can contribute to positive emotions, emotional stability and the reduction of emotional disturbances.’ (Videogames and Wellbeing: A Comprehensive Review, Young and Well CRC)

e.g. apps for mental health: Managing self harm, bullying no-way, managing anger, increasing thankfulness

self harm apptake a stand



Continue talking to children about gaming habits:

  1. Educate children about media effects generally, and video game effects specifically.
  2. Regulate time spent gaming and balance this with face-to-face interaction, sport and other activities.
  3. Encourage pro-social and educational game use.
  4. Keep gaming consoles in public areas and out of bedrooms, especially at night.
  5. Play video games with your children – this effect on children is positive.


‘It is true that as a player you are “not just moving your hand on a joystick” but are indeed interacting “with the game psychologically and emotionally.” Video games are neither inherently good nor inherently bad. But people learn. And content matters.’ 

 Craig A. Anderson et al, 2010


What games do your children enjoy? Do you have any other suggestions?


Linking up with Kirsty from  My Home Truths for I Must Confess.

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  1. Speaking as a woman who was once a gamer… when a teenager and adult:

    I turned out alright. It’s all about establishing ‘something else’ as priority. Mine was my studies. Gaming filled in the blanks. A lot of blanks. I had more friends in real life than I could fit into a month and still made time for social. I went out dancing with friends on Fridays and Wednesdays. Came home to gaming if I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t drink myself silly and smoke pot like my classmates, I played games. I think it also made me a better strategist, a better thinker.

  2. I honestly think, managed correctly there is a lot of good with some of these games. Teaching your children to self manage their online and gaming habits is also a valuable lesson but keeping a close eye and stepping in when needed is very important as well.
    Mystery Case recently posted…In bed with Jessica Bratich?!My Profile

    • Self-management is so important. I think that comes with age and time… and of course supervision. I completely agree about stepping n when needed. If we keep a close eye on things, then we can monitor when this may be necessary. Thanks Mystery Case.

  3. It’s really important that parents have awareness on the power of games. Choosing the right game/app can do so much for your child. This is an important post to remember not all games are best. Thanks for sharing.
    Jen Hale recently posted…Mind MattersMy Profile

  4. I wrote a post for I Must Confess last year where I set the case that the Xbox was not the work of the devil. For my kids, 2 of whom fall on the autism spectrum, playing games together has helped their problem solving, sharing, communication and reading skills. In moderation I think video games can be really beneficial – great post Collett!
    Kirsty @ My Home Truths recently posted…I Must Confess…Unloved PostsMy Profile

    • Thanks for having me on ‘I must confess’ Kristy!

      I see many benefits for children on the spectrum too Kristy – especially when they play with someone else. There are so many social skills they can learn, while someone talks through the scenarios for them. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  5. We have just got iPads Collett and our kids, 5, 3.5 and 2 ADORE them, and we limit their time, they don’t even use them every day but I can see the benefits of them! I loved the apps suggested, thanks will look into them. A great post and you’ve definitely done your homework I can see! Emily
    Emily @ Have a laugh on me recently posted…Why we all need time at the beach – Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  6. Hi Collett, my kids are still quite young (5,3 &1) yet some of my friends kids have access to apps & games (some educational, others just games for fun) so I have been a little wary of introducing games online to my kids. Glad the positive is written about here.
    Lisa recently posted…Guest Post: Take Charge Now Blog.My Profile

    • I always err on the side of caution Lisa. Especially with young kids. They need hands-on, face-to-face time more than anything at their ages. You sound like you are doing just that.

  7. I have 3 now adult cousins on my mums side who grew up on violent games. One has just been accepted into the federal police after just finishing his criminology degree, another has a steady job as an electrician and the third is completing a mechanics apprenticeship. None of them have had anger issues, they are all lovely young men who I am proud to call my relatives. I think if we educate our children about the games, and remind them that they are just games, then we can greatly reduce the impact.
    Tegan recently posted…Hairy Lemon Review and Giveaway.My Profile

    • They sound like great people Tegan. They must have had a good balance, great family and adults talking and playing with them. Violent games on their own may be a risk factor, but it is a lot more complicated than violent gaming = murderer. It’s the kids playing alone in their bedrooms, for hours on end, with all sorts of other issues going on that worry me most.

  8. My boys are all dedicated gamers, so it’s good to hear that it’s not all bad. Having said that, I still like to limit their time spent gaming and make sure they get exercise too. Great post.
    Ness recently posted…PassionsMy Profile

    • My kids are too Ness. They love their iPad and x-box time, but we are also strict with limits, balancing their day with sport, family and offline peer time.
      Your kids sound like they are getting a good mix.

  9. RT #gaming is good for your kids…wait, what? #onlinegaming #kidstechnology #ipads #mentalhealth

  10. I love when “we” – parents, professionals, media – look at the positive instead of the negative sides of technology! One of my favourite stories is by a mum I know who has a boy with Aspergers, who wrote of all the benefits he gained from playing multiplayer games like xbox. My eldest always loved mystery games where she had to find clues.
    Rachel @ The Kids Are All Right recently posted…Teen sexting and the law – a parent’s fearsMy Profile

    • It’s true Rachel!. We often hear about the ‘bad stuff’ and although I am a firm believer in being aware of the risks, we need to highlight the positives.