Benefits of Playing Video Games

Video games are a ubiquitous part of almost all children’sand adolescents’ lives, with 97% playing for at least onehour per day in the United States. The vast majority ofresearch by psychologists on the effects of “gaming” hasbeen on its negative impact: the potential harm related toviolence, addiction, and depression. We recognize thevalue of that research; however, we argue that a morebalanced perspective is needed, one that considers not onlythe possible negative effects but also the benefits of playingthese games. Considering these potential benefits is important, in part, because the nature of these games haschanged dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic, and social in nature.A small but significant body of research has begun toemerge, mostly in the last five years, documenting thesebenefits. In this article, we summarize the research on thepositive effects of playing video games, focusing on fourmain domains: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social. By integrating insights from developmental, positive,and social psychology, as well as media psychology, wepropose some candidate mechanisms by which playingvideo games may foster real-world psychosocial benefits.Our aim is to provide strong enough evidence and a theoretical rationale to inspire new programs of research onthe largely unexplored mental health benefits of gaming.Finally, we end with a call to intervention researchers andpractitioners to test the positive uses of video games, andwe suggest several promising directions for doing so.

Decades of valuable research on the effects of violentvideo games on children’s and adolescents’ aggressivebehavior already exists, and this is indeed an importantbody of work to consider. However, we argue that in orderto understand the impact of video games on children’s andadolescents’ development, a more balanced perspective isneeded, one that considers not only the possible negativeeffects but also the benefits of playing these games. Considering these potential benefits is important, in part, because the nature of these games has changed dramaticallyin the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse,realistic and social in nature (Ferguson & Olson, 2013). Asmall but significant body of research has begun to emerge,mostly in the last five years, documenting these benefits.We propose that, taken together, these findings suggest thatvideo games provide youth with immersive and compellingsocial, cognitive, and emotional experiences. Further, theseexperiences may have the potential to enhance mentalhealth and well-being in children and adolescents.

lthough relatively little research has focused on the benefits of playing video games specifically, the functions and benefits of play more generally have been studied for decades. Evolutionary psychology has long emphasized the adaptive functions of play (for a review, see Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2010), and in developmental psychology, the positive function of play has been a running theme for some of the most respected scholars in the field (e.g., Erikson, 1977; Piaget, 1962; Vygotsky, 1978). Erikson (1977) proposed that play contexts allow children to experiment with social experiences and simulate alternative emotional consequences, which can then bring about feelings of resolution outside the play context. Similarly, Piaget (1962) theorized that make-believe play provides children opportunities to reproduce real-life conflicts, to work out ideal resolutions for their own pleasure, and to ameliorate negative feelings. Both Piaget (1962) and Vygotsky (1978) espoused strong theoretical links between play and a variety of elements that foster the development of social cognition.

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