Are video games harmful?

Yes, and no. In fact, video games have effects on multiple dimensions – the same video game can have both good and bad effects at the same time. Learn more about how researchers measure the effects of video games and when and why video games cause harm here.

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Are video games good or bad?

Video games are neither “good” nor “bad.” Rather, experts measure video games effects across multiple dimensions.

Five dimensions of Video games

Depending on the factors surround the play of a particular video game, video games can harm self and/or others. In other situations, video games benefit social relations or improve skill level. Here, we review the five major dimensions of playing video games that can cause possible harm in video game play, and inform you on how you can avoid causing harm to your self, child, or loved ones via video game play.



OUTCOME: The amount of video game play impacts learning and health risks.


* The more time spent playing video games for entertainment, the lower the school performance.

* The more time spend playing video games, the greater the risk to physical health (ex. obesity or repetitive stress injuries).

DECISIONS YOU CAN MAKE: Self-monitoring of video game play can also help prevent excessive play and possible compulsive use of gaming to avoid emotional or  social problems and/or  school or work obligations. Parental monitoring of children and video games protects children. Parental rules that set limits regarding video game play time and participation in physical activity may help enhance school performance and decrease potential health risks caused by excessive video gaming.


DIMENSION 2: Content of game play

OUTCOME: The content of video games leads to learning behaviors. Learning educational, prosocial, or violent scripts, attitudes or lessons can be either explicit or implicit to video game play.


* Specific educational games increase skill levels for math and reading. Health learning games increase health behavior compliance.

* Violent video games have been associated with increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

DECISIONS YOU CAN MAKE: Violent video game play is thought to increase aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in the short term, and to reinforce aggressive scripts, attitudes, and aggression desensitization in the long term. You can avoid violent video games by choosing other games (non-violent, pro-social or educational video games) or by limiting violent video game use. Parental control over which content types children choose can help children perform better in school and get into fewer fights.


DIMENSION 3: Context

OUTCOME: Social context that requires or rewards teamwork can either increase or decrease the effect of aggression.

WHAT WE KNOW: Studies have not yet targeted the social context of video games and their effect on behavior yet.

DECISIONS YOU CAN MAKE: Be aware that multi-player online games can actually increase aggression. Monitor how you interact with people socially in multi-player games, and whether you enjoy exerting force over others, or not.


DIMENSION 4: Mechanics

OUTCOME: The closer the similarity of video game consoles and mechanical interfaces with real life scenarios, the greater the skill transfer (ex. driving game with wheels and pedals vs. mouse and keyboard).

DECISIONS YOU CAN MAKE: Choose video games based on skill and their accessories as close to real life application as possible.


DIMENSION 5: Structure

OUTCOME: Video game environment can facilitate increased skills of analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and application.


* Video game structures can help improve visual attention skills if they require constant scanning of the screen.

* Video game structures can enhance the ability to see three dimensionally in a 2 dimensional plane.

* Skills practiced in video games can be transferred more easily to the real world to the extent to which a video game is realistic.

DECISIONS YOU CAN MAKE: Research the potential benefits of video games before purchasing them, and acquire transferable skills as you play.


Reference sources: Pediatrics. 2010 Jul;126(1):e89-96
The Five Dimensions of Video Game Effects, Stone & Gentile Iowa State University, 2008 APA presentation
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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