Are games just for kids?


I would not recommend playing slayer on halo against these two! Courtesy of gamezone

I would not recommend playing slayer on halo against these two!

Courtesy of gamezone

In short: There is a lot of interest in the potential bad effects of video games in young people. Recently the interest has shifted to the evidence that games might actually be quite good for us. It turns out older people also play and their gaming might help them achieve successful ageing.

A lot of the interest in games from both the media and the research community has been around the potential negative effects of games on children and adolescents. In particular around the possibility that games could cause violence. Interest has recently shifted to whether video games might have positive psychological effects not just in young people, but in adults (1-3). 

This might well be because over half of all Americans play video games (4), games now use interfaces that can include natural body movements (touch screens and the kinect sensor, for instance) and games have a social dimension with more and more multi player on line games becoming available.

Good or bad?

I mentioned in a previous post that recent studies have discovered positive effects in abilities like perception tasks or tasks that test how fast people use information. Beyond those effects there was a review published last year by Primack and colleagues last year (3) that summarised all the evidence for improvements in psychological therapy, physical therapy and physical activity after playing video games.

Only for the young?

In my day job I work with people of all ages, including people over the age of 65. Successful ageing is one of my main interests and I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a paper that looked at gaming in older adults (5). I was further surprised that in their sample 60% of the participants were gamers. In the study they measured well-being, social functioning, how they felt their health was, positive emotions, negative emotions, and depression. Gamers did better than non-gamers in well-being and social functioning. Gamers also had fewer negative emotions and reported less depression.

This study shows a correlation between gaming and positive outcomes in older people, but correlation does not necessarily mean causation. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that this should be investigated in other studies. To me it also means that games as an intervention might be more acceptable to older people than we previously thought based on the percentage of players in the study participants. When we talk about using games to improve emotional health we usually get the comment that this would only be acceptable to younger people more used to gaming. Based on the study older people seem to be as used to gaming as younger people are. As I am particularly keen on helping this segment of the population, which tends to get less attention than others, this was very welcome news.

  1. Spence, I., & Feng, J. (2010). Video games and spatial cognition. Review of General Psychology, 14, 92–104
  2. Ferguson, C. J. (2010). Blazing angels or resident evil? Can violent video games be a force for good? Review of General Psychology, 14, 68–81
  3. Primack, B. A., Carroll, M. V., McNamara, M., Klem, M., King, B., Chan, C. W., et al. (2012). Role of video games in improving health-related outcomes: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42, 630–638
  4. Entertainment Software Association (2009). Annual report. Washington, D.C.: Entertainment Software Association.
  5. Allaire, J. C., McLaughlin A. C., Amanda Trujillo, A., Whitlock, L. A., LaPorte L., Gandy, M. (2013) Successful ageing through digital games: Socioemotional differences between older adult gamers and Non-gamers. Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) 1302–1306

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