Research finds you’re better off playing video games

NEW research has turned up some pretty surprising findings – those who play video games may be better off than those who don’t play at all. Leon Saw finds out from the  experts at the recent PAX Australia 2013.

Research finds you're better off playing video games

Video games are bad for you. Video games are a waste of time. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times from your parents and high school teachers.

But new research unveiled at the  inaugural PAX Australia in Melbourne last week suggests otherwise.

Why video games are good for you

Director of the Games Research and Interaction Design Lab at the Queensland University of Technology Dr Daniel Johnson says while video games have traditionally been given a bad name and blamed for making people socially isolated, aggressive and lazy – they may in fact, be really good for stress reduction and improving your mood.

When researchers have conducted studies in school, the kids that aren’t playing at all are worse off on a number of key measures than the kids who play a moderate amount. – Dr Daniel Johnson

“They’re a great way of connecting with other people, they engender feelings of autonomy and relatedness and feelings of confidence, and that by and large for the vast majority of people, video games are a really positive influence,” Dr Johnson says.

Dr Johnson was joined by Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre chief executive Associate Professor Jane Burns and a panel of experts to discuss their findings.

“Everyone knows that excessive gaming is not good for your mental health,” says Professor Burns.

“However, this comprehensive review has highlighted a positive side to gameplay that is often overlooked.”

Mains findings from the research:

  • Moderate gameplay can contribute to positive emotions, emotional stability and the reduction of emotional disturbances.
  • Positive mental wellbeing has been associated with videogame play as a means of relaxation and stress reduction.
  • Depressed mood is significantly lower, and self-esteem higher, in those that play games.

Perhaps what’s most surprising, is the finding that video games may be essential to a person’s emotional and mental wellbeing.

“It’s important to not engage excessively, but there’s also research to show that the right amount of video game play is actually better than no video game play,” Dr Johnson says.

“When researchers have conducted studies in school, the kids that aren’t playing at all are worse off on a number of key measures than the kids who play a moderate amount.”

Video games an easy target 

How then do we explain the links that have sometimes been made between video games and horrific crimes such as those committed by Norwegian rightwing extremist Anders Breivik and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza?

Dr Johnson disagrees with the notion that video game play is the root of the problem.

“Those people were in trouble already and it’s terrible, it’s sad and not good, but it’s not video games that are causing the problem,” he says.

“If people are psychosocially vulnerable, if people who I guess have problems in other areas of their lives, who are struggling in other ways, they’re perhaps going to engage with video games in a negative way and that’s going to be a problem.”

Rather than attribute their terrible deeds to their video game habits, Dr Johnson believes the solution “is to help them with whatever the pre-existing issues were that got them into that space”.

It’s bad when it becomes excessive 

As in most things in life, moderation is key when it comes to video games – and is something that young adults must learn to exercise.

“Obviously if it’s exam period, it’s not a good time to schedule a series of raids with your World Of Warcraft guild,” says Dr Johnson.

“But if it’s the time of semester where you’ve got a semester break, maybe that’s the time to do that, and during semester, I think using gaming mindfully in terms of if you need a break or you want to reduce your stress, then playing some games might be a really good way to do that.”