Videogames are sometimes good for you according to science

While we’ve been hearing that videogames have been rotting childrens’ minds and turning them into soul-less zombies for years, it’s much less often that we come across a study showing the positive impact games can have on young minds.

Well, here ya go.

Thanks to some new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, more light can be shed on the murky mystery that is the relationship between videogames and the mind. Though researchers do confirm that playing violent games is positively correlated with violent behavior, they are just as sure that playing “prosocial” games can lead to a increase in friendly behavior.

The studies were performed on a wide range of youngsters, from teenagers in Singapore to tweenagers in Japan, to college students in the United States. The results show that exposure to prosocial games can indeed lead to more friendly and helpful behavior in real life. Chalk that up as a win, I guess. The researchers go on to conclude that the content of the game being played is more important in shaping behavior than the time spent playing it.

So while we don’t get a disapproval of the “violent games cause violent behavior” theory, we do get an equally strong theory in the opposite direction. It looks like the whole thing balances out. Now if we could just get parents to pay attention to the ESRB ratings, everything would be fine…

Maybe. A couple of problems we have with the study is that the researchers don’t tell us what these “prosocial” games are. Did they experiment with games that children would actually want to play in their free time like say Rock Band? Or were the games used in the studies watered down adventures that traded in gameplay for extra friendliness?

Also, what about games that incorporate violence as well as teamwork. Left 4 Dead is a good example. So is pretty much every FPS with a co-op mode. How would these games affect behavior? Does strategically planning how to overtake a challenging opponent add enough social behavior to a game to make up for the zombie and Nazi (or NAZI ZOMBIE) killing? If we ever get an answer, it could tip the videogame debate rather drastically.