Although President Obama recently urged the entertainment industry to curb portrayals of violence to children and adolescents, new research highlights the cognitive benefits of video games, especially shooters. The study shows that assumptions connecting violent video games to real-life violence are too simplistic.
The study, titled "The Benefits of Playing Video Games," was conducted by researchers at the Netherlands-based Radboud University Nijmegen and will be published in the American Psychologist. The implications are massive, considering 97% of children and adolescents in the US play at least one hour of video games per day.
Although the scientists examined many types of video games, the most surprising findings surrounded the positive consequences of shooter games like Halo 4 and Grand Theft Auto IV. The methodology is compelling (bolding mine):
The most convincing evidence comes from the numerous training studies that recruit naive gamers (those who have hardly or never played shooter video games) and randomly assign them to play either a shooter video game or another type of video game for the same period of time. Compared to control participants, those in the shooter video game condition show faster and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing, and enhanced mental rotation abilities...
A critic might say, so what? That sounds like a lot of academic jargon, but what does this mean for the average gaming kid? It turns out gamers are not only receiving the equivalent of a formal education but also retaining real-life skills (bolding mine):
...the spatial skills improvements derived from playing commercially available shooter video games are comparable to the effects of formal (high school and university-level) courses aimed at enhancing these same skills. Further, this recent meta-analysis showed that spatial skills can be trained with video games in a relatively brief period, that these training benefits last over an extended period of time, and crucially, that these skills transfer to other spatial tasks outside the video game context.
The authors go on to point out that those very abilities are those most in demand now and rising, particularly in STEM fields. In addition to these cognitive benefits, video games are shown to improve motivational, emotional, and social development in children - especially as the industry produces more complex and diverse games.
Many critics of violent video games argue that shooters, while harmless for most of the population, are damaging to children and young adults who might already have mental health problems. Yet the researchers address this concern as well, arguing that the potential for video games "designed for mental health interventions" to provide low-cost, stigma-free, widely-accessible supplements to more established approaches.
"The Benefits of Playing Video Games" is certainly a game-changer.