Gaming and Students: Benefits & Risks

Gaming often gets a bad press, with the focus on excessive play, violence and cyberbullying. However, there is increasing evidence that video games can have multiple benefits for young people in the classroom and beyond.

This blog explores the pros and cons of gaming, and the resources available to equip educators and school counselors with the skills to help students exhibiting unhealthy gaming habits.

Benefits of gaming for students

students and teacher

Is gaming good for a student? There’s strong evidence that video games can improve the learning experience and enable students to develop their interpersonal skills. Here are some of the positive effects of gaming in an educational context:

  • Provides experiential learning – Video games are particularly effective experiential learning tools because learning by doing can enhance memorization and retention. Also, they give students a wide choice of environments in which to explore and learn. Professors at the University of Edinburgh designed Project Millport – a digital fieldwork experience built in Minecraft – for zoology students who were unable to undertake in-person fieldwork due to COVID-19 restrictions. This demonstrates how gaming affects academics in a positive way by giving them the tools to develop creative solutions.
  • Engages students in STEM subjects – Video games are an effective way to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. But what is gaming education and how can it be used effectively? The appeal for educators and students is twofold – STEM skills can be introduced into video game content or through teaching coding and other computer skills. The University of Oklahoma has devised a calculus game called Mission Prime to make it easier for students to understand and excel in the subject.
  • Helps students learn from mistakes – Video games allow students to fail in a safe way and learn from their mistakes. A study by Anderson et al (2018) looked at the gaming patterns and conversations of 88 middle school students playing an educational video game called Virulent to investigate the role of failure in learning. They found that collaboration helped players to learn, with more successful players sharing strategies with students who were struggling.
  • Improves learning capabilities – Video games can improve players’ learning capabilities more generally, not just through skills gained while gaming. This is backed by research which shows that gamers have an advantage at learning compared to non-gamers. In a weather prediction task, gamers performed significantly better than non-gamers – especially in situations with high uncertainties – and gamers showed an increased activity in the brain areas relevant for learning. A follow-up questionnaire demonstrated that gamers had acquired more declarative knowledge than non-gamers.
  • Enhances problem solving – Many video games encourage players to experiment with different approaches to succeed. In Angry Birds (a puzzle game) and Cut the Rope (a physics-based puzzle) players require critical thinking, strategy and problem-solving skills to reach the next level. Education expert, Professor Angela Mcfarlane, says “There are many computer games that require quite deep learning to master the games. Some of that learning applies beyond games to wider life, such as concentration, problem solving, and resilience – important life skills. Anyone who has tried to play complex video games will know they are difficult.”
  • Boosts academic performance and attendance – According to the National School Boards Association (NSBA), it’s time for schools to harness the potential of scholastic esports – organized video game competitions between teams. As well as gaining real-world skills, playing esports can help students thrive socially and academically. The NSBA reveals that students who join esports programs have better attendance (+10%) and earn better grades (GPA +1.7) than their non-esports peers, and 80% of students who play esports at high school have never previously taken part in an extracurricular activity.
  • Encourages inclusivity – Esports in schools also attracts previously unengaged students and has greater reach and inclusivity than other activities. Kristy Custer, Vice President of Educational Innovation at the High School Esports League says: “You can come to the esports team and be whoever you want to be. One of the most foundational things that we learned [from a research study done this fall of a big high school district] is that 7% of the students gaming were from the LGBTQ community. Esports is capturing a marginalized, high-risk community, and we are helping them belong to something. It crosses a lot of social-economic boundaries.”

Risks of gaming for students

Is gaming bad for a student? Despite the many benefits outlined above, gaming does have downsides. Here are some of the negative effects of gaming that some students can experience when playing video games:

  • Conflict at home – Sometimes gaming causes conflict between parents and students. Perhaps the student has ignored rules about the types of video games they’re allowed to play, the amount of time they’re permitted to spend online or they may have bought loot boxes without parental consent.
  • Poor physical health and hygiene – If gaming starts to take over a student’s life, it can have a significant impact on their physical health. It’s not uncommon for problematic gamers to be exhausted and dehydrated from playing all night without a break. Other side effects of being physically inactive for long periods include obesity, vision problems, headaches, repetitive strain injury, aching muscles, blood clots and poor hygiene. 
  • Mental health problems – Students who game excessively have poorer emotional health and well-being than students with more well-rounded lives. Research has consistently shown that adolescents with mobile game addiction self-reported higher instances of depression, social anxiety and loneliness. Streamers also experience issues with their mental health.
  • Neglecting schoolwork – Students sometimes skip school to continue gaming while those who do attend may be unable to concentrate if they’ve been playing all night. Losing motivation to study, procrastinating about homework and rejecting any school-related activities to play video games are all signs that there’s a problem.
  • Lack of interest in other activities – Some students have all their needs met by playing video games so they resist spending time with friends and family, and stop all other activities during and after school. Find out what to do if a student has lost their motivation.
  • Cyberbullying – There are many ways that students can be bullied while gaming, some more serious than others. The anonymity of players and the use of avatars allows gamers to abuse, harass and exclude other players without fear of repercussions. This can range from name calling to ‘doxing’ (sharing private information online) which can compromise not just a student’s private information but their parents’ information as well. Find out more about toxicity, hate and harassment in gaming.
  • Internet safety – Online predators sometimes use video games to groom young players. They can build rapport and gain trust by defeating a tough opponent, standing up to a cyberbully or sending gaming currency. This can lead to inappropriate messages, webcam chats or even face-to-face meetings. It’s important that students are educated about online risks and parents closely monitor their gameplay.
  • Excessive play – Often, parents worry that their child is spending too much time playing video games. But how much play is too much play? Check out the screentime guidelines for children and teens. An increasing number of students are experiencing symptoms of problematic play. In fact it’s estimated that around 3 billion players globally suffer from gaming disorder – defined here by the World Health Organization.

Here’s a message from our co-founder Cam Adair on his advice for 11-year old gamers:

How educators and school counsellors can help students gaming problematically

Educators and school counselors are seeing a rise in the number of students with problem gaming habits.

In just 15 hours of self-paced learning, our Gaming Disorder Clinical Training will equip school staff and counselors with the skills and knowledge to help students and their families enjoy the benefits and minimize the risks of gaming.

Find out more about our internationally-accredited training today.

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