Essay For Zeek the Geek So please no one else msg


M ost reported effects of videogames -

particularly in the popular press - appear

to centre upon the alleged negative

consequences. These have included my own

research into video game addiction,1,2 increased

aggressiveness,3 and the various medical and

psychosocial effects.4 However, there are many

references to the posit ive benefits of

videogames in the literature.5,6 Research dating

right back to the early 1980s has consistently

shown that playing computer games

(irrespective of genre) produces reductions in

reaction times, improved hand-eye

co-ordination and raises players’ self-esteem.

What’s more, curiosity, fun and the nature of

the challenge also appear to add to a game’s

educational potential.7 This paper briefly

overviews some of the educational benefits of

videogame playing.

Videogames as educational research tools

Videogames can clearly consume the atten-

tion of children and adolescents.8 However, it is

important to assess the extent that videogame

technology had an impact on childhood educa-

tion. Since videogames have the capacity to

engage children in learning experiences, this

has led to the rise of “edu-tainment” media. Just

by watching children it becomes very clear that

they prefer this type of approach to learning.

However, it appears that very few games on the

commercial market have educational value.

Some evidence suggests that important skills

may be built or reinforced by videogames. For

example, spatial visualization ability (i.e., men-

tally, rotating and manipulating two- and

three-dimensional objects) improve with video

game playing.9 Videogames were also more

effective for children who started out with rela-

tively poor skills. It has also been suggested that

videogames may be useful in equalizing indi-

vidual differences in spatial skill performance.

For over 20 years researchers have been using

videogames as a means of researching individ-

uals. Many of these reasons also provide an

insight as to why they may be useful education-

ally. For instance :

� Videogames can be used as research and/or mea-

surement tools. Furthermore, as research tools they

have great diversity

� Videogames attract participation by individuals

across many demographic boundaries (e.g., age,

gender, ethnicity, educational status)

� Videogames can assist children in setting goals,

ensuring goal rehearsal, providing feedback, rein-

forcement, and maintaining records of behavioural


� Videogames can be useful because they allow the

researcher to measure performance on a very wide

variety of tasks, and can be easily changed, stan-

dardized and understood

� Videogames can be used when examining individual

characteristics such as self-esteem, self-concept,

goal-setting and individual differences

� Videogames are fun and stimulating for participants.

Vol. 20 No.3, 2002 Education and Health 47

Dr Mark Griffiths is Professor of Gambling Studies in the Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University.

What is clear from the empirical literature is that the negative consequences of playing almost always

involve people who were excessive users of videogames.

Mark Griffiths

The educational benefits of videogames Videogames have great positive potential in addition to their entertainment value and there has been considerable success when games are designed to address a specific problem or to teach a certain skill.

Research has consistently shown that playing computer games produces reductions in reaction times, improved hand-eye co-ordination and raises players’ self-esteem.

Consequently, it is easier to achieve and maintain a

person’s undivided attention for long periods of

time.10 Because of the fun and excitement, they may

also provide an innovative way of learning

� Videogames can provide elements of interactivity that

may stimulate learning

� Videogames also allow participants to experience

novelty, curiosity and challenge. This may stimulate


� Videogames equip children with state-of-the art tech-

nology. This may help overcome technophobia (a

condition well-known among many adults). Over time

it may also help eliminate gender imbalance in IT use

(as males tend to be more avid IT users)

� Videogames may help in the development of trans-

ferable IT skills

� Videogames can act as simulations. These allow par-

ticipants to engage in extraordinary activities and to

destroy or even die without real consequences

� Videogames may help adolescents regress to child-

hood play (because of the ability to suspend reality in

videogame playing)

There of course some disadvantages to

researching videogames in an educational con-

text. For instance :

� Videogames cause participants to become excited

and therefore produce a whole host of confounding

variables such as motivation and individual skill11

� Videogame technology has rapidly changed across

time. Therefore, videogames are constantly being

upgraded which makes it hard to evaluate educa-

tional impact across studies

� Videogame experience and practice may enhance a

participant’s performance on particular games, which

may skew results

Despite the disadvantages, it would appear

that videogames (in the right context) may be a

facilitatory educational aid.

Videogames and the development of skills among

special need groups Videogames have been used in comprehen-

sive programmes to help develop social skills in

children and adolescents who are severely

retarded or who have severe developmental

problems like autism.12,13 Case studies such as

those by Demarest14 are persuasive. Demarest’s

account of her own autistic 7-year old son

reported that although he had serious deficien-

cies in language and understanding, and social

and emotional difficulties, videogame playing

was one activity he was able to excel. This was

ego-boosting for him and also had a self-calm-

ing effect. Videogames provided the visual

patterns, speed and storyline that help chil-

dren’s basic skills development. Some of the

therapeutic benefits Demarest outlined were

language skills, mathematics and reading skills,

and social skills.

Language skills

These included videogame play being able

to facilitate (i) discussing and sharing, (ii) fol-

lowing directions (understanding prepositions

etc.), (iii) giving directions, (iv) answering ques-

tions, and (v) having a discussion topic with

visual aides to share with others.

Basic maths skills

These included videogame playing pro-

moting basic maths skills as children learn to

interact with the score counters on videogames.

Basic reading skills

These included videogames’ character dia-

logue which are printed on the screen (‘Play’,

‘Quit’, ‘Go’, ‘Stop’, Load’ etc.).

Social skills

Videogames provided an interest that was

popular with other children makes talking and

playing together so much easier. At school there

are always other children who share a passion

for videogame play.

Horn15 used videogames to train three chil-

dren with multiple handicaps (e.g., severely

limited vocal speech acquisition) to make scan

and selection responses. These skills were later

transferred to a communication device. Other

researchers have used videogames to help

learning disabled children in their development

of spatial abilities,16 problem-solving exer-

cises17 and mathematical ability.18 Other

researchers have offered comments on how best

to use computer technology for improved

achievement and enhanced motivation among

the learning disabled.19,20

There are now a few studies that have

examined whether videogames might be able to

help in the treatment of another special needs

group - children with impulsive and attentional

diff icult ies . Kappes2 1 tr ied to reduce

impulsivity in incarcerated juveniles (ages 15 to

18 years) by providing either biofeedback or

experience with a videogame. Impulsivity

scores improved for both conditions. Improve-

ment was also noted in negative

self-attributions and in internal locus of control.

The authors concluded that most likely expla-

nation for the improvement in both

experimental conditions was the immediate

feedback. Clarke22 also used videogames to

48 Education and Health Vol. 20 No.3, 2002

Despite the disadvantages, it would appear that videogames (in the right context) may be a facilitatory educational aid.

help adolescents learn impulse control. A

videogame was used for four weeks with four

subjects (11 to 17 years) diagnosed with impulse

control problems. After the experimental trial,

the participants became more enthusiastic and

co-operative about treatment.

Brain-wave biofeedback New (as yet unpublished) research23 sug-

gests videogames linked to brain-wave

biofeedback may help children with attention

deficit disorders. Biofeedback teaches patients

to control normally involuntary body functions

such as heart rate by providing real-time moni-

tors of those responses. With the aid of a

computer display, attention-deficit patients can

learn to modulate brain waves associated with

focusing. With enough training, changes

become automatic and lead to improvements in

grades, sociability, and organizational skills.

Following on from research involving pilot

attentiveness during long flights, a similar prin-

ciple has been developed to help

attention-deficit children stay focused by

rewarding an attentive state of mind. This has

been done by linking biofeedback to commer-

cial videogames.

In their trial, Pope24 selected half a dozen

‘Sony PlayStation’ games and tested 22 girls

and boys between the ages of 9 and 13 who had

attention deficit disorder. Half the group got

traditional biofeedback training, the other half

played the modified video games. After 40

one-hour sessions, both groups showed sub-

stantial improvements in everyday brain-wave

patterns as well as in tests of attention span,

impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.

Parents in both groups also reported that

their children were doing better in school. The

difference between the two groups was motiva-

tion. The video-game group showed fewer

no-shows and no dropouts. The researchers do

warn that the ‘wrong kinds of videogame’ may

be detrimental to children with attention disor-

ders. For instance, ‘shoot ‘em up’ games may

have a negative effect on children who already

have a tendency toward short attention and

impulsivity. They also state that the technique is

an adjunct to drug therapy and not a replace-

ment for it.

Videogames and health care Videogames have also been used to

improve children’s health care. Several games

have been developed specifically for children

with chronic medical conditions. One of the

best-studied is an educational game called

‘Packy and Marlon’.25 This game was designed

to improve self-care skills and medical

compliance in children and adolescents with

diabetes. Players assume the role of characters

who demonstrate good diabetes care practices

while working to save a summer camp for chil-

dren with diabetes from rats and mice who have

stolen the supplies. ‘Packy and Marlon’ is now

available through ‘Click Health’

(, along with two addi-

tional health-related software products,

‘Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus’ (for asthma

self-management) and ‘Rex Ronan’ (for smok-

ing prevention).

In a controlled study using ‘Packy and

Marlon’,26 8- to 16-year olds were assigned to

either a treatment or control group. All partici-

pants were given a ‘Super Nintendo’ game

system. The treatment group was given ‘Packy

and Marlon’ software, while the control sub-

jects received an entertainment videogame. In

addition to more communication with parents

and improved self-care, the treatment group

demonstrated a significant decrease in urgent

medical visits.

Rehabilitation There are also several case reports describ-

ing the use of videogames for rehabilitation. In

one application, an electronic game was used to

improve arm control in a 13 year old boy with

Erb’s palsy.27 The authors concluded that the

game format capitalized on the child’s motiva-

tion to succeed in the game and focused

attention away from potential discomfort.

Electronic games have also been used to

enhance adolescents’ perceived self-efficacy in

HIV/AIDS prevention programs.28 Using a

time travel adventure game format, informa-

tion and opportunities for practice discussing

prevention practices were provided to

high-risk adolescents. Game-playing resulted

in significant gains in factual information about

safe sex practices, and in the participants’ per-

ceptions of their ability to successfully negotiate

and implement such practices with a potential


Concluding remarks It is vital that we continue to develop the

positive potential of videogames while remain-

ing aware of possible unintended negative

effects when game content is not prosocial. At

the present time, the most popular games are

usually violent. Given current findings, it is rea-

sonable to be concerned about the impact of

violent games on some children and adoles-

cents. Game developers need support and

encouragement to put in the additional effort

necessary to develop interesting games which

do not rely heavily on violent actions.

Vol. 20 No.3, 2002 Education and Health 49

Players assume the role of characters who demonstrate good diabetes care practices while working to save a summer camp for children with diabetes from rats and mice who have stolen the supplies.

It is vital that we continue to develop the positive potential of videogames while remaining aware of possible unintended negative effects when game content is not prosocial.

Relationships between playing violent elec-

tronic games and negative behaviors and

emotions may never be proven to be causal by

the strictest standard of “beyond a reasonable

doubt,” but many believe that we have already

reached the still-compelling level of “clear and

convincing evidence.”

Finally, most parents would probably sup-

port the use of videogames if they were sure

they helped their children learn about school

subjects. There are several elements which the

teacher, parent, or facilitator should evaluate

when choosing a health promoting/educa-

tional or helping videogame (adapted from


� Educational or therapeutic objective. The objec-

tive of the game should be clear. Professional

helpers and developers should have a known goal in

mind for the players of the game. The outcomes they

are seeking should be clear to the teacher and to the


� Type of game. There are many types of activity con-

tent : games, puzzles, mazes, play,

fantasy/adventure, simulations, and simulation

games. Some games require physical skill and strat-

egy, while others are games of chance. Some

videogames are board or adventure game, while oth-

ers involve simulation involving real events or

fantasy. No evidence supports a greater therapeutic

or educational effect in either situation

� Required level and nature of involvement. The

evaluator should assess whether the videogame

player is passive or active. In some games, the com-

puter plays the game while the participant watches

the results. In computer-moderated games, the com-

puter provides the environment for the game to occur

and presents decisions or questions to the player at

key points during the game. The computer then

reveals the consequences of the decisions made by

the player

� Information and rules. Some games allow the

player to have a range of knowledge and information

about past experiences with the game. Others pro-

vide minimal amounts of information to the player.

Part of the strategy may involve the player’s

response to this lack of information. Rules and player

participation in setting rules may vary among games

� The role of luck. Some games are driven by chance.

It is assumed that the greater the influence of chance

in the working of the game, the less educational and

therapeutic in nature. However, some players prefer

games of chance over games of strategy

� Difficulty. Some games allow the player to choose

the difficulty level. Others adjust difficulty level based

on the progression of the player. This approach

allows the game to become progressively more inter-

esting as it becomes more challenging

� Competition. Many games build in competition.

Some players are attracted by competition. Teachers

may wish to examine if the competition is presented

in such a way that all can win and that one does not

win at the expense of all others

� Duration. Some games have very short duration,

while others may go on at length. Making of user

rewards, personal challenges, or changes in color or

graphical surroundings to maintain interest some

games can hold player interest for long periods of


� Participant age and characteristics. Computerized

games have been developed for a range of ages. It

assumes that the participant can understand the

rules of the game and has the skill level to accom-

plish the motor aspects of playing the game. Some

games allow for modification of text to meet the

needs of poorly sighted players

� Number of players. Some videogames are solitary

in nature. Others pit players against each other or the

computer. Solitary games may meet the needs of

those who find group work difficult

� Facilitator’s role. In some videogames, the teacher

or facilitator merely observes. In others, the facilitator

may be an important part of the game format

� Setting. Fully prepare staff to integrate these games

into the curriculum. Without proper acceptance, the

games may be used primarily as a game or toy rather

than as a therapeutic or educational tool

Videogame technology brings new chal-

lenges to the education arena. Videogames

represent one technique that may be available

to the classroom teacher. Care should be taken

that enthusiastic use of this technique does not

displace other more effective techniques. Video

and computer-based games may possess

advantages not present in other learning strate-

gies. For example, the ability to choose different

solutions to a difficult problem and then see the

50 Education and Health Vol. 20 No.3, 2002

Videogame technology brings new challenges to the education arena.

Education and Health In the next issue:

Young People in 2001

Young people tell us what they do at home,

at school and with their friends

effect those decisions have on a fictional game

allows students to experiment with prob-

lem-solving in a relative safe environment.

Videogames have great positive potential

in addition to their entertainment value. There

has been considerable success when games are

specifically designed to address a specific prob-

lem or to teach a certain skill. However,

generalizability outside the game-playing situ-

ation remains an important research question.

What is also clear from the empirical literature

is that the negative consequences of playing

almost always involve people who were exces-

sive users of videogames. From prevalence

studies in this area, there is little evidence of

serious acute adverse effects on health from

moderate play. Adverse effects are likely to be

relatively minor, and temporary, resolving

spontaneously with decreased frequency of

play, or to affect only a small subgroup of play-

ers. Excessive players are the most at-risk from

developing health problems although more

research appears to be much needed.


1 Griffiths, M.D. & Hunt, N. (1995). Computer game playing in

adolescence : Prevalence and demographic indicators.

Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 5,


2 Griffiths, M.D. & Hunt, N. (1998). Dependence on computer

game playing by adolescents. Psychological Reports, 82,


3 Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Video games and aggression : A

review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 4,


4 Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Computer game playing in children

and adolescents : A review of the literature. In T. Gill (Ed.),

Electronic Children : How Children Are Responding To The

Information Revolution. pp.41-58. London : National

Children’s Bureau.

5 Lawrence, G.H. (1986). Using computers for the treatment

of psychological problems. Computers in Human Behavior,

2, 43-62.

6 Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Video games and clinical practice :

Issues, uses and treatments. British Journal of Clinical

Psychology, 36, 639-641.

7 op cit (above, n.1).

8 Malone, T.W. (1981). Toward a theory of intrinsically

motivated instruction. Cognitive Science, 4, 333-369.

9 Subrahmanyam, K. & Greenfield, P. (1994). Effect of video

game practice on spatial skills in boys and girls. Journal of

Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 13-32.

10 Donchin, E. (1995). Video games as research tools: The

Space Fortress game. Behavior Research Methods,

Instruments, & Computers, 27 ,217-223.

11 Porter, D.B. (1995). Computer games: Paradigms of

opportunity. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, &

Computers 27 (2), 229-234.

12 Gaylord-Ross, R.J., Haring, T.G., Breen, C. &

Pitts-Conway, V. (1984). The training and generalization of

social interaction skills with autistic youth. Journal of

Applied Behaviour Analysis, 17, 229.

13 Sedlak, R. A., Doyle, M. and Schloss, P. (1982) “Video

Games - a Training and Generalization Demonstration with

Severely Retarded Adolescents”, Education and Training in

Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 17 (4),


14 Demarest. K. (2000). Video games – What are they good

for? Located at:

15 Horn, E., Jones, H.A. & Hamlett, C. (1991). An investigation

of the feasibility of a video game system for developing

scanning and selection skills. Journal for the Association for

People With Severe Handicaps, 16, 108-115.

16 Masendorf, F. (1993). Training of learning disabled

children’s spatial abilities by computer games. Zeitschrift fur

Padagogische Psychologie, 7, 209-213.

17 Hollingsworth, M. & Woodward, J. (1993). Integrated

learning : Explicit strategies and their role in problem

solving instruction for students with learning disabilities.

Exceptional Children, 59, 444-445.

18 Okolo, C. (1992a). The effect of computer-assisted

instruction format and initial attitude on the arithmetic facts

proficiency and continuing motivation of students with

learning disabilities. Exceptionality, 3, 195-211.

19 Blechman, E. A., Rabin, C., McEnroe, M. J. (1986). Family

Communication and Problem Solving with Boardgames and

Computer Games. In C. E. Schaefer & S. E. Reid (Ed.),

GAME PLAY: Therapeutic Use of Childhood Games pp.

129-145. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

20 Okolo, C. (1992b). Reflections on “The effect of

computer-assisted instruction format and initial attitude on

the arithmetic facts proficiency and continuing motivation of

students with learning disabilities”. Exceptionality, 3,


21 Kappes, B. M., & Thompson, D. L. (1985). Biofeedback vs.

video games: Effects on impulsivity, locus of control and

self-concept with incarcerated individuals. Journal of

Clinical Psychology, 41, 698-706.

22 Clarke, B. & Schoech, D. (1994). A computer-assisted

game for adolescents : Initial development and comments.

Computers in Human Services, 11(1-2), 121-140.

23 Wright, K. (2001). Winning brain waves : Can custom-made

video games help kids with attention deficit disorder?

Discover, 22. Located at


24 Pope, A. & Palsson, O. In Wright, K. (2001). Winning

brain waves : Can custom-made video games help kids

with attention deficit disorder? Discover, 22. Located at

25 Brown, S. J., Lieberman, D. A., Germeny, B. A., Fan, Y. C.,

Wilson, D. M., & Pasta, D. J. (1997). Educational video

game for juvenile diabetes: Results of a controlled trial.

Medical Informatics 22, 77-89.

26 ibid.

27 Krichevets, A.N., Sirotkina, E.B., Yevsevicheva, I.V. &

Zeldin, L.M. (1994). Computer games as a means of

movement rehabilitation. Disability and Rehabilitation : An

International Multidisciplinary Journal, 17, 100-105.

28 Thomas, R., Cahill, J., & Santilli, L. (1997). Using an

interactive computer game to increase skill and self-efficacy

regarding safer sex negotiation: Field test results. Health

Education and Behavior, 24, 71-86.

29 Funk, J.B., Germann, J.N. & Buchman, D.D. (1997).

Children and electronic games in the United States. Trends

in Communication, 2, 111-126.

Vol. 20 No.3, 2002 Education and Health 51

Excessive players are the most at-risk from developing health problems.