Video games have long been associated with socially isolated teens, tucked away in dark rooms playing violent shooter games. However, the latest research studies reveal that this is a common misconception and there are an array of social benefits to gaming.
Video games have a wide and varied audience, with people of all genders, ages and ethnicities consuming all types of games. Video games are also typically played by healthy, educated and socially active individuals. Furthermore, video games are commonly played as a group, rather than unaccompanied. Whether it’s playing video games as a family or children engaging in multi-player online games, video games are often a social activity.
However, the idea that video games negatively impact mental health and encourage violence and isolation persists. First-person shooter games have a particularly bad reputation, with the media frequently highlighting the dangers of playing such games excessively. However, an increasing amount of research has found that playing video games, including shooter games, can boost learning, health and social skills.
Can video games be beneficial?
As a result of the ongoing debate about whether video games have a negative effect on youth, many psychological studies have set out to find if video games isolate people or if there are social benefits to gaming.
A recent review of research for the American Psychologist intends to find just this. The study disputes the idea that video games isolate teens and cause aggression and instead finds that video games can have a positive effect on the brain in more ways than one. The study claims that video games improve creativity, problem-solving and multi-tasking abilities.
This has been supported by a number of surgeons, who assert that skills such as precision and repetition are improved by playing video games. Such ideas reinforce the notion that gaming scenarios can translate into real-life situations.
The social benefits of video games
Many psychologists assert that there is a positive correlation between gaming and social competence. This is especially true of modern-day gaming, with the online world enabling two people to connect across continents, no matter the physical distance. Many games are now played cooperatively, with two players (or more) working together to achieve a collective goal.
For example, first-person shooting games such as Call of Duty involve playing online, where you work in teams to defeat the opponent. This requires communicating with each other, often with headsets so you can chat with your teammates. Such games therefore allow players to engage in gameplay simultaneously, building and strengthening bonds amongst both friends and strangers.
In fact, findings from the American Psychological Association reveal that 70% of gamers play games with other people. Gamers often enjoy watching their friends play, whether that be online, through live-streaming platforms or huddled around a computer in the same room. Watching and playing video games as a group can therefore be a reason for friends to relax and socialise together, highlighting the social benefits of playing video games.
Another study from the Journal of Applied Development Psychology suggests that video game play could be a positive feature of healthy adolescence. The study found that teenager gamers scored highly in areas such as family closeness, school engagement and friendship networks. Such findings debunk the idea that video games isolate teens.
Multiple research studies have also found that children who don’t play videogames are also likely to be out of the social loop, as they will be unable to discuss such games with their peers or join in on any playground gaming talk.
Emotional benefits of video games
Video games can often induce strong feelings of anger and frustration. Parents often witness their children experience these intense emotions during gaming and automatically assume that this is a negative side-effect of gameplay. However, many child psychologists claim that experiencing intense emotions while gaming can help those who play better cope with frustrating situations in real life. In this way, children can learn valuable emotional lessons which can be applied to real-life scenarios.
A study from the Entertainment Software Association found that 70% of parents say video games have a positive influence on their child’s life and agree that video games act as an emotional outlet and a good release of anger. If video games help children better cope with emotional scenarios, this will in turn positively impact their personal friendships and social skills.
Video games and real life
Gaming for both children and adults alike serves as a common interest and point of conversation which can create bonds and enhance social skills. Multi-player and online games allow for constant communication between players which results in the development of both meaningful and casual relationships.
It is important to remember that video games will not always be a beneficial aspect of someone’s life. Like anything in life, when gaming is taken to the extreme it can have negative consequences. However, when played in moderation, gaming can serve as a building block for friendships, creating bonds across continents and teaching children and adults important social, cognitive and emotional skills.