Leveling Up: Can Video Games Be Good for Kids?

Video games have taken a lot of heat from armchair psychologists and parents in the past. But when you examine the actual research filed, it turns out that the release of the latest Tom Clancy first person shooter might not signal the collapse of civilization after all.

Data were assembled recently by the School Children Mental Health Europe project conducted in six European Union countries and published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Results showed that playing on-screen games appears to have positive effects on mental health, cognitive and social skills. And that's a good thing, especially since a 2010 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) Council revealed that children aged 8 to 18 years interact with a range of media for an average of 7 hours a day, 70 percent of American teens have a TV in their bedroom and around 50 percent have a video game console.

In general, results from a wide range of studies are either contradictory or inconclusive. The APA study concluded that that a certain combination of personality traits can help predict which young people will be more adversely affected by violent video games. The researchers identified high neuroticism (e.g., easily upset, angry, depressed, emotional, etc.), low agreeableness (e.g., little concern for others, indifferent to others feelings, cold, etc.) and low conscientiousness (e.g., break rules, don’t keep promises, act without thinking, etc.).

While not exactly a glowing endorsement, it was hardly the stinging condemnation for which so many haters were hoping. The recent European study concluded that, after adjusting for age, gender and number of siblings, high video game usage led to a 1.75 times greater chance of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times chance of high overall school competence.

Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and a member of the European research team, explained that "Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community."

Of course, too much of a good thing, or even a contradictory or inclusive thing, is still a bad thing. The APA recommends no more than two hours worth of media a day for children.

The Europeans made a point of hedging their bets as well, concluding that, although video games are "entirely beneficial for cognitive functioning as well as for some aspects of mental health” parents were still urged to continue to exercise responsibility by setting limits on screen usage.

So... Game On?