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Gaming and learning - Video games and school

Video games have become an integral part of teens’ lives. Despite the time they spend in the virtual world, most of these teens still go to school and need to perform well. Many parents are concerned that video games and studying are incompatible. Are their concerns well-founded? What influence do games have on teens’ school life, behaviour and learning?

Benefit 1: Well-being and reducing stress

Anyone who’s played games knows how entertaining they can be. Depending on the game, you can become someone else and move through fantasy worlds. Playing well in the game gives a sense of achievement and sometimes even recognition from other players. In addition, most online games are not played alone, but instead there is a 'gaming community'. So, when you look at it like that, games can enhance personal well-being.

Furthermore, gaming has been shown to reduce stress (see Bourgonjon et al. 2015). The key word here is "mood management". This means that games can help regulate mood and emotions. School life can be very stressful and this excessive stress can be harmful to learning. For example, stress can cause a lack of motivation and a fear of exams, both of which will reduce school performance! Therefore, being able to effectively reduce stress is very important, especially for young people.

Benefit 2: Games make you smart

This is an argument that gamers like to use to justify excessive gaming: Games make you smart. In fact, most games - but not all - allow you to develop certain skills. Depending on the game, you can improve your logical thinking or your teamwork skills.

So-called "action" games are said to be particularly influential (see Vahlensieck 2018). By playing them regularly, you can develop a whole range of skills (e.g., a shorter reaction time). Playing action games can considerably speed up the processing of information and it can help you become a better problem-solver (see Vahlensieck 2018). All of these skills can be useful both in the classroom and in exam situations.

Disadvantage 1: Gaming takes time

Gaming can reduce academic stress and help develop skills that are useful in school. However, playing video games can also interfere with learning behaviour. Gaming has many dangers. In particular, it poses a risk to studying because it can be very time-consuming.

The principle is simple: if you’re gaming for hours every day, you have less time for homework and revision. If gaming gets out of hand and becomes a teen’s only focus, their academic performance often declines and this can be seen in a drop in grades.

Disadvantage 2: Decreased sleep quality

In addition to the amount of time that gaming takes up, it also has negative effects on sleep quality. A lot of teen gamers play late into the evening or even through the night. So, at school, they get too tired and find it difficult to learn and concentrate. But sleep quality is not only affected by late nights. Even if young people have a good sleep schedule, they may not be able to fully rest while sleeping.

For example, sleep quality can also be affected by the blue light emitted from screens just before bedtime. Video games can also cause excitement and an adrenaline rush. Which triggers an increase in cardiovascular activity, causing the heart to beat faster. As a result, breathing speeds up and cortisol, the stress hormone, is secreted in excess. Combined, these can cause fatigue which can prevent young people from learning.

Disadvantage 3: Knowledge is forgotten

One last point: after school, teens do their homework and study for exams. Different cognitive learning processes are involved that require energy and time. In the best case, the acquired knowledge is transferred from the short-term memory to the long-term memory and thus permanently consolidated. Neurologists refer to this as "knowledge consolidation".

But these learning processes are very sensitive to disturbances. Video games can be a disturbance: experts believe that video games and online games have a negative influence on consolidating this knowledge as they argue that learning processes are slowed down or prevented when playing at unsuitable times.


So, in summary, what influence do video games have on the school life and learning behaviour of young people? There are arguments both for and against young people playing games in their everyday lives. On one hand, it can provide entertainment and reduce school stress. Also, depending on the game, it can help develop skills that increase intelligence in a broader sense. On the other hand, it’s a time-consuming activity that can reduce sleep quality and the ability to consolidate information that has been learnt in the day. Playing video games at inappropriate times can also disrupt academic learning processes. But what is the relationship between video games in this complex context? The effects of games vary depending on the player. We asked pediatrician Charles Etterlin how he advises parents and teenagers on this subject.

Recommendations on the use of video games for young people:

For Dr Etterlin, the risks of video games are greater than their benefits: "For me, the question is not what the child gains from the games. Is the child better cognitively, is their thinking more interconnected?". This is why he advises parents to monitor their children's time spent gaming: "Parents cannot and should not forbid gaming. But they should strictly control how their children do it." The time factor seems to be the most important for the paediatrician: "The time a child spends on video games should not supplant too many activities that are important for healthy development: school, sport, art, music and social contact". Young people who play games need time limits.

Another step Etterlin recommends is choosing the right time to play. He advises playing right after school, if possible. This way, children can "take a break" from school and relax a bit. After that, homework needs to be tackled. The paediatrician says: "I wouldn't use games as a break between study sessions or as a reward. If you do that, you risk erasing a lot of what you have learnt."

References: Bourgonjon et al. (2015) : Les perspectives des joueurs sur l'impact positif des jeux vidéo : une analyse de contenu de qualité des discussions de forums en ligne. Nouveaux médias et société 18 (8), 1-18.
Vahlensieck, Yvonne (2018) : Acquérir les compétences de demain à partir des jeux vidéo d'aujourd'hui. In : Horizons. Le magazine suisse de la recherche 03.03.2018. En ligne sur : <30.11.2020>.
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