A study led by researchers at Iowa State University finds pro-social video games have a positive influence on the kids who play them across a host of cultures, in the U-S and in seven other countries. Doug Gentile, an I-S-U psychology professor, says with more exposure to pro-social media, including video games that portray caring and cooperative behaviors resulted in higher levels of pro-social behavior.
“It is important that parents are paying attention to the games their kids play,” Gentile says. “The games have an impact well beyond just the time they’re playing. In fact, we’re seeing kids across time across years, if they’re playing pro-social games, they end up being more helpful and cooperative in the real world two years later.” In one segment of the international study, more than three-thousand young people in Singapore were studied in third, fourth, seventh and eighth grades. Over two years, students who played violent games became less likely to show empathy and behave in helpful ways, while those who played pro-social games became more empathetic and helpful.
“Parents are in a much more powerful position than they realize,” Gentile says. “They do need to pay attention to the ratings on the games and choose that have themes that they want their kids to be practicing.” One of his favorite pro-social video games is called “Animal Crossing.” Gentile says the character you play in the game has just moved to a new town and has to buy a house and get a job to pay the mortgage.
“The way you play the game is, you go around the town and you meet your neighbors and they ask you to do little favors for them, you know, carry this to another person,” Gentile says. “As you do all these favors, you’re helping to build a community and you’re doing these things that are helpful and cooperative in your community.” The most popular games tend to be violent, and I-S-U researchers say violent games can produce harmful effects on players. They note, nonviolent games with lots of pro-social content produce positive effects on children. For the study, researchers surveyed young people in Australia, China, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Romania and the United States.