Game time

Parents and legislators seem to worry constantly about the damage video games might do today’s youth; indeed, the Supreme Court is now considering a case about a California law that limits children’s access to certain games. But a recent Yale study suggests that video games are largely benign.

Researchers led by Rani Desai ’94PhD, an associate professor of psychology and public health, surveyed more than 4,000 Connecticut teens and preteens. The anonymous quiz asked about their gaming habits, performance in school, and extracurricular activities, as well as the sorts of bad behaviors parents worry about: drinking, smoking, drug use, and fighting.

The results, published in Pediatrics, showed that more than half of kids play video games of some sort, and that most kids who game look a lot like kids who don’t. Boys who played games—about 76 percent—typically had higher grade point averages, and were less likely to have smoked or used marijuana, compared with boys who did not play games. For girls, a smaller percentage play games regularly—just under 30 percent. Girl gamers were less likely than nongamers to use marijuana or suffer from depression, but they showed slightly higher risks of fighting and occasional smoking.

Desai cautions that the research cannot answer chicken-or-egg questions about whether games cause behaviors or certain personalities are by nature attracted to games. But she says the study suggests that parents need not fear video games, so long as their children are not playing them to the detriment of other activities.

“You could argue that you’d rather your kids were in your living room, playing video games, than out drinking or having sex or smoking,” she says.

The study did look at one group of gamers worth worrying about. Answers from about five percent of children suggested that they are “problem gamers,” who game compulsively, crave games, and withdraw from other pursuits. That group was also at higher risk for smoking, drinking, fighting, and depression.  


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