Research Update: The Joystick Generation: Video Games Have Measurable Social Effects on Adolescents

By Barenthin, Jami; Van Puymbroeck, Marieke | Parks & Recreation, August 2006 | Go to article overview
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Research Update: The Joystick Generation: Video Games Have Measurable Social Effects on Adolescents

Barenthin, Jami, Van Puymbroeck, Marieke, Parks & Recreation

The potentially negative effects of video games have received tremendous amounts of attention in recent years. Following violent acts by children supposedly influenced by violent video games, laws were enacted to prevent children from purchasing such games in Indianapolis, Ind., and St. Louis, Mo.; Australia and Germany have also enacted similar laws (Vastag, 2004).

Video games have been increasing in popularity for adolescents and are widely available through the Internet, with dedicated gaming consoles, and on mobile phones (Wood et al., 2004). As the popularity of video games increases, so does the concern about their effects. Media content, including video games, affects both attitudes toward violence and acceptable gender roles (Beasley & Collins-Standley, 2002).

A significant amount of supposed video game-related crimes has spawned research on the effects of violent video games (Anderson, 2004). However, the research on violent video games is limited to its physical effects (physical activity that is replaced by playing video games), behavioral effects (the ability to predict violence and aggression as an outcome of playing video games), and gender issues related to video games. The area that will be focused on here is the effect of video games on social skills in adolescents.

Social skills are an important part of child development (Spence, 2003). Social skill deficiency can cause emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems with high levels of anxiety or anger. Research has indicated that aggressive and other related behaviors have a negative effect on social skills. Animosity, which was found to be detrimental to social skills, was also a significant outcome of video gaming (Shao et al., 2004).

Research reviewed by Gihnan and colleagues (2004) on extracurricular activities found that having a social network is important. Participation in structured extracurricular activities proved to be positively correlated with positive social self-concept across multiple studies. Further, structured activities also provide opportunities to interact with competent adults, who in turn provide knowledge and skills, can challenge youth, and can serve as role models.

Playing video games usually does not involve a social network. As evidenced by Messerly (2004), 90 percent of college students surveyed knew other students or they themselves had their social or academic lives interrupted by video games, by which they were confined to their rooms for long durations and no longer responded to human interaction while playing. This alienation from human contact made social relationships more difficult to maintain since they spend so much time chained to their computers" (p. 30).

Research demonstrates the importance of social skills in life and relationships, while other research indicates a lack of social interaction when playing video games. This makes it difficult to ascertain if the effects of video games on social skills are negative or positive.

The research related to video games and social skills follows one of three patterns: aggressive/negative behaviors, gender issues and positive effects of playing video games. First, it is important to look at the motivations of video game habits in adolescents.


Harris and Williams (1985) examined the reasons people play video games and the effect playing had on school performance. Their study included 152 high school students from three cities. Reasons for playing (in order of importance) included excitement, mastery, having nothing else to do, having friends who play and to make themselves feel better. Those who spent the most money and time on games did so because of the above reasons (versus those who spent less money and time).

Realistic sound effects and settings and high quality graphics were found to be the most important influencing aspects of video games in a study by Wood (2004) on 381 participants (242 males, 140 females) aged 14 to 50 years old.

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Research Update: The Joystick Generation: Video Games Have Measurable Social Effects on Adolescents


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