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Positive play: The benefits of video gaming

There is a wealth of research showing that video games can have innovative educational and therapeutic uses, as well as many studies showing that playing video games can increase reaction times and increase hand-eye co-ordination. Find out more.

Debates concerning the effects of playing video games have been around for over three decades. However, the alleged negative effects (such as addiction, increased aggression, and various health consequences such as obesity and repetitive strain injuries) tend to get far more media coverage than the positives. I know from my own research examining both sides that my papers on video game addiction receive far more press publicity than my research into the social benefits of playing online role-playing games.

However, there is now a wealth of research showing that video games can have innovative educational and therapeutic uses, as well as many studies showing that playing video games can increase reaction times and increase hand-eye co-ordination. For example, research has shown that spatial visualization ability skills (i.e., mentally, rotating and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects) improve with video game playing.

Adding to this long line of studies showing the more positive effects of video game playing is a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Vikranth Bejjanki and his colleagues. Their newly published paper demonstrates that the playing of action video games confirms many other studies that people who play fast-paced, action-packed video games show improved performance in perception, attention, and cognition.

In a series of experiments on small numbers of gamers (10 to 14 people in each study), the research team reported that gamers with previous experience of playing action video games (AVGs) were better at perceptual tasks (i.e., pattern discrimination) than gamers that had less experience of playing AVGs. In one of their other experiments, they also trained gamers that had little previous experience of playing AVGs (getting them to play over 50 hours on an AVG), and showed that these gamers had much better performance on perceptual tasks than prior to their training. The paper concluded that the “enhanced learning of the regularity and structure of environments may act as a core mechanism by which action video game play influences performance in perception, attention, and cognition”.

In my own papers, I have pointed out the many features and qualities that make video games potentially useful. For instance, in an educational context, video games:

  • Can be fun and stimulating. Consequently, it is easier to achieve and maintain a person’s undivided attention for long periods of time. Because of the fun and excitement, video game playing may also provide a more innovative way of learning than traditional methods.
  • Have the capacity to attract participation across many demographic boundaries (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, educational status).
  • Can assist in setting goals, ensuring goal rehearsal, providing feedback, reinforcement, and maintaining records of behavioural change.
  • Can be used when examining individual characteristics such as self-esteem, self-concept, goal-setting and individual differences.
  • Can provide elements of interactivity that may stimulate learning.
  • Allow individuals to experience novelty, curiosity and challenge that may stimulate learning.
  • May help in the development of transferable skills (particularly in simulation games in which people learn to do things like flying a helicopter).
  • Can act as safe simulations that allow individuals to engage in extraordinary activities without real consequences (driving a car, flying a plane, performing an operation, etc.).

Because video games can be so engaging, they can also be used therapeutically. For instance, they can be used as a form of physiotherapy as well as in more innovative contexts (for instance, a number of studies how shown that I children play video games following chemotherapy they need less painkillers than children engaged in other activities).

Video games have great educational potential in addition to their entertainment value. This is because video games are motivating, engaging, interactive, and provide rewards and reinforcement for skill improvement. There has been considerable success when games are specifically designed to address a specific problem or to teach a certain skill. However, the transferability of skills outside the game-playing situation remains an important factor. What is also clear from the scientific literature is that the negative consequences of playing almost always involve people that are excessive video game players. There is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play.

This article is a slightly different and extended version of one that first appeared in The Conversation. The original article can be found here

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2002).  The educational benefits of videogames Education and Health, 20, 47-51.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2003).  The therapeutic use of videogames in childhood and adolescence. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 547-554.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122-123. 

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Adolescent video game playing: Issues for the classroom. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers, 60(4), 31-34.

Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2013). Videogames as therapy: A review of the medical and psychological literature. In I. M. Miranda & M. M. Cruz-Cunha (Eds.), Handbook of research on ICTs for healthcare and social services: Developments and applications (pp.43-68). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

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