Children who play video games show better cognitive and memory skills compared to those who played none over the same time period, according to an Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study published by JAMA Network Open this month.
The study included more than 2,000 children aged nine and 10, who reported playing more than three hours of video games a week. The researchers intentionally exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics’ suggested screen time guidelines, which recommends two hours of gaming per day for older children.
Among the two groups of children, those who played video games showed higher activity in regions of the brain associated with attention and memory, as well as higher cognitive functioning compared to those who played no video games at all.
The results of the study did not surprise Kristopher Alexander, a professor of media production and expert in video games at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU).
“Video games are the only medium that involves audio, text, video, and the fourth component of interactivity,” said Alexander. “If you look at any study that combined two or more of those mediums, the learning gains are higher.”
Alexander says the study goes against past studies that video games have negative effects on adolescent health. This is not the first study out of the U.K. with indicators contradicting the negative effect of video games on kids.
“We’re not yet at the state where we have young or connected-enough scholars talking about the benefits of video games,” says Alexander. “That’s why I get excited about studies like this one. Like, I’ve known about [these benefits] forever.”
In addition to the cognitive benefits of gaming, TMU students have noted the therapeutic effects that video games have on their lives.
“Video games take my mind off stress and even small moments of anxiety in my day,” said Amanda Cheung, a third-year economics and management science student. “I can focus on the objective of the game instead of worrying about certain things in my life.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Nintendo Switch players cited Animal Crossing: New Horizons as their virtual escape during lockdowns. Benjamin Steinberg, a third-year economics student at TMU, says the battle royale game Apex Legends is his personal de-stresser.
“For me, video games like Apex are a very immersive experience,” said Steinberg. “I think if games are played in a responsible way with limits, then it can definitely be used as a healthy tool for many individuals in their lives.”
Alexander says he is trying to open a discussion about the potential video games have for helping students at TMU.
“The potential benefits of video games really go on and on,” he said.
“I want to build a school where we’re talking about all these things, because I can get a class really hyped up by talking about probabilities, distribution and math, while I’m just talking about how often the blue shell appears in Mario Kart.”