A new study published in the International Journal of Communication shows that students who regularly play online video games perform better in school than their non-playing peers. To reach this conclusion, researchers from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology analyzed scores from the Program for International Assessment test, or PISA.

"Not now mom, I'm improving my academic achievement!"

The 2012 PISA test assessed the academic and intellectual performance of 12,000 Australian students alongside various demographic and socioeconomic data to try to determine what factors might be leading to differences in achievement among students. Surprisingly, the published results show a marked bump in performance for the students who play online games:

[...] the analysis shows that those students who play online video games obtain higher scores on PISA tests, all other things being equal. [...] gameplay appears to equip students to apply and sharpen knowledge learned in school by requiring them to solve a series of puzzles before moving to the next game level.

The research theorizes that the problem-solving and memory-based tasks in many online games sharpens students’ reasoning abilities, which allow them to perform better on standardized tests and academic tasks such as math word problems.

If only school were a game where children could earn points by completing repetitive tasks. Oh, wait...

In a press release issued by RMIT, lead researcher Alberto Posso argues that games could be an important classroom tool:

When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day. Teachers should consider incorporating popular video games into teaching – so long as they’re not violent ones.

One disquieting finding of this study is that indigenous children, whether active in online gaming or not, fared much worse overall on the PISA test than their non-indigenous peers. While online games were found to have some level of academic benefit for non-indigenous students, researchers found that the use of social networks had the opposite effect:

Overall, using tests results for 15-year-old children in Australia, the analysis reveals that children who regularly use online social networks, such as Facebook, tend to obtain lower scores in math, reading, and science than students who never or hardly ever use these sites.

Previous studies have found that regular gaming can increase neural plasticity or even relieve pain and anxiety. The latest gaming craze, Pokémon GO, has even led to increased physical exercise for millions of players.

Violent games are a constant topic of both psychological research and fear-mongering.

However, not all effects of gaming are positive; some games can lead to increased aggression in children and despite the success of Pokémon GO, millions of children are leading unhealthy lifestyles due to the sedentary nature of most games. As social networking and video games become increasingly prevalent in our lives, more research is needed to determine what effects they are having on our squishy little brains and weak, smelly bodies.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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