Do Video Games Benefit Adolescent Development?
Does playing video games for greater than six hours per week adversely affect a student’s academic achievement and does the time spent on gaming yield negative social consequences for those taking part in the activity?
I hypothesize that playing video games for greater than six hours per week will increase the level of a student’s academic achievement while negatively affecting the student’s ability to interact socially with his or her peer group at large.
The population chosen for this observation was adolescent males and females ranging in age from twelve to eighteen. The reason that this population was chosen was due to the fact that 97% of adolescents within this age group report that they play video games regularly (Raine and Smith, 2008). The particular sample being observed was a group of adolescents who attend the youth group at Harmony Baptist Church. This sample group was chosen because this was the only adolescent population group to which the researcher had ready access.
In order to assess whether playing video games for greater than six hours per week positively affected an adolescent’s academic achievement and negatively affected his or her social achievement, the researcher composed a twenty-one question survey to gather general data on the habits of the sample and to help identify possible candidates for further interview. The surveys were completed anonymously, with participants who took part in thein-depth interview volunteering at a later time, after the data from the initial survey had been compiled. Permissions were obtained from parents in order for the adolescents to participate in the survey.
According to the initial research questionnaire, the sample’s responses did not fall in line with data taken from larger research samples of other research groups. Only 30% of the adolescent students sampled played video games and of these, only 15% played for greater than six hours a week. 60% of students reported computer use throughout the week with a vast majority of these hours being spent engaged in on-line social activity, such as Facebook, Myspace, instant messenger programs, or other social networking sites. In the larger data sample, it was found that 97% of adolescents engaged in some sort of video gaming activity (Raine and Smith, 2008).
After the initial survey was completed and the results were compiled, volunteers who responded that they played video games for greater than six hours per week were asked to step forward privately for further interview. Three respondents came forward for in-depth interview. An identical interview was conducted with each of the participants after obtaining parental consent for the interviews. These inquiries yielded very interesting results.
The interviewees were asked probing questions to gauge their academic achievement, their satisfaction with their current level of academic achievement, and their perceived level of social acceptance from their peer group. Interviewee one (I-1) was a thirteen-year-old white male who engaged in gaming activity for twelve hours weekly. Only one hour of this was spent playing with peers weekly and the time spent with peers was sporadic at best. The majority of his gaming time was spent playing alone in his room. He reports that he never plays games on-line with other people.
When asked about his current level of academic achievement, the student expressed that he usually attains A’s and B’s in his classes. This seemed to bother the student as he expressed slight disdain regarding his grades and the desire to improve his scores. The student was then asked why he felt that he needed to do better to which he responded that his parents expect him to do better and his family has a strong history of academic achievement. The interviewee was then questioned as to how video games affected his academic achievement. This was slightly perplexing to the student at first as he had never attempted to connect the two activities. “I have never really thought about that before,” stated I-1, “I guess it really doesn’t help. It takes up a lot of my time, so, sometimes, I slack on schoolwork.”
I-1 felt as if he did not fit in with his peer group at large. He placed more importance maintaining a small group of friends that he could “keep track of”. He proudly proclaimed that he was anti-social in nature. When asked if video games helped or detracted from this feeling, he simply stated that video games provided a place where he could be in control. His home life was stable, with supportive, non-separated parents whom encourage him in whatever he is pursuing, according to I-1.
Interviewee 2 (I-2) was a 14-year-old white male. He spent greater than fifteen hours a week playing video games. This young man also received A’s and B’s in school, but unlike I-1, he was satisfied with his grades. “I think A’s and B’s are good, and so do my parents. I am good with that,” replied I-2 when questioned about his level of satisfaction with his grades. However, I-2 also stated that he believed he could do better if he spent less time playing video games.
I-2 felt as if he was accepted by the majority of his peer group, but also placed more value in the small number of close relationships that he maintained. I-2 stated that video games provide him with a sense of entertainment and a way to escape. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother. He describes his household as “stormy from time to time.”
Finally, the third interviewee (I-3) was a fourteen-year-old black male whom spent between twelve and fifteen hours a week playing video games. The majority of his gaming time was spent playing with friends, which differentiated him from I-1 and I-2 who spent the majority of their game time playing alone. He received B’s and C’s on his last report card. Like I-2, he was satisfied with his current level of academic achievement. When questioned further, I-3 stated that he simply did not care about learning in school. I-3, like the two interviewees before him, believed that if he spent less time playing video games and more time studying that he could improve his grades.
Unlike I-1 and I-2, I-3 used video games as a way to reach and connect with those around him. He spent all but one hour gaming with friends weekly. “My friends just like video games,” said I-3. He lives in a nice neighborhood with many other children his age whom are interested in the same things. I-3 agrees that his neighborhood has a lot to do with his friends, but unlike I-1 and I-2, I-3 puts more stock into his quantity of friends rather than the quality of the friendships. “I like to have a lot of friends so that I can always find someone to talk to,” replied I-3 when asked about this anomaly. He lives with both of his parents, but his parents are less than supportive of the young man making him do many of the activities that he is involved with alone. Video games provide I-3 with a platform for positive supportive social interaction.
Analysis of the data gleaned from the participant surveys and the in-depth interviews yields an interesting conclusion in response to the hypotheses set forth at the inception of this observation. The first hypothesis regarding gaming for longer than six hours leading to increased academic success seems to be proven false as all the interviewees stated that if they were to decrease the amount of time spent gaming, they could improve their academic performance. This aligns with national studies that have concluded that a large amount of video game time can lead to a lower performance on intelligence marking tests such as the SAT (Vivek, 2007). The question then becomes is the decreased performance related to gaming itself, or is it more related to a time management issue?
The observation research confirms that the decreased performance is more related to the issue of time management rather than the gaming activity itself, as several of the others in the participant surveys also expressed displeasure regarding their current academic status and their desire to improve. The common link is not gaming. Instead, it is an overload of activity; whether it is physical activity, gaming, or social activity, the results are similar.
The data neither supports nor disproves the second hypothesis posed in regard to adolescents who participate in gaming being more socially outcast. On the contrary, it would seem that gaming has the ability to provide those who participate in the activity a common ground on which to bond.
It would seem that the social stereotype that only “nerds” play video games is slowly passing away. Video games are becoming more a part of mainstream society every day. The reasons behind this are as unique as the individuals who take part in the activity. From providing social interaction to providing a means of escape, gaming has become a huge part of the adolescent and young adult culture of society and it does not look like the activity will be going anywhere anytime soon as technological advances continue to make it easier to play video games wherever and whenever one would like.
It would behoove society to adapt to this growing cultural phenomenon. Instead of attempting to remove gaming from the adolescent landscape, it might be more prudent for the leaders of society to take advantage of this platform, much as Barack Obama did with YouTube during his presidential campaign. Young people need to be taught how to manage their time while maintaining their identities. Many of these young people’s identities are wrapped up in the pixilated reality where they can be the king or Cassanova. To deny this tendency will lead to further rebellion from this generation, but to encourage and exploit it might lead to the reform for which many of society’s leaders are calling.
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