PLAYING violent shooter video games does make students smarter and help them succeed at university, according to research by a leading academic.
A trial by the University of Glasgow has shown that playing video games – including first person shooters Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2 – can help players’ communications and mental adaptability skills.
Previous academic studies have suggested that video gaming could have a variety of negative effects including mental illness and neurological disorders.
And several US school shootings have even been linked to video gaming.
But the study, led by Information Studies lecturer Matthew Barr, showed that playing computer games could actually help develop ‘graduate attributes’.
Students involved in the study played a variety of games over an eight-week period. Most of the games were strategy titles but they included Borderlands 2, a science fiction shooter, where players fight aliens and scavengers stranded on a fictional planet.
Another game included in the study was Team Fortress 2, where gamers use flamethrowers, grenades and sticky bombs to defeat enemies.
Those in the study played 14 hours of the games over the trial period.
And players improved communication skills, resourcefulness and adaptability, compared to those in a control group.
Commenting on the results, Mr Barr said: “My research is perhaps what every parent may or, in the case of some, may not like to hear.
“This work demonstrates that playing commercial video games can have a positive effect on communication ability, adaptability and resourcefulness in adult learners, suggesting that video games may have a role to play in higher education.
“Certainly, the results of the randomised controlled trial described here suggest that the popular discourse around games’ alleged ill effects should be tempered by considerations of the potential positive outcomes of playing video games.”
He added: “The findings suggest that such game-based learning interventions have a role to play in higher education.
“Graduate attributes are those generic skills such as problem solving, communication, resourcefulness or adaptability which are considered desirable in graduates, particularly where employability is concerned.”
In 2015, a study led by researchers at the University of Montreal found that playing video games was linked with reduced hippocampal integrity, which is associated with increased risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2001, relatives of people killed in the 1999 Columbine massacre tried to sue computer game makers, saying their products helped bring about the killings, but their case was dismissed.
As well as Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2, other games included in the University of Glasgow study were Minecraft, Portal 2, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Gone Home and Papers, Please.
Speaking about the results, Mr Barr said: “If you speak to someone who does not play video games, the findings might surprise them, but to anyone who does, they would not be that surprising.
“Borderlands and Team Fortress are super important. If you’re looking over someone’s shoulder playing them, you might think it’s mindless shooting but they’re both collaborative.
“You have to play to each others’ strengths, and be co-operative.
“As a parent I’m careful about what my child plays, I look at the age rating, but I think that games get a bad press. I think this study counters that narrative.”
There were 100 students initially recruited to take part in the study, and these were split into intervention and control groups.
Around 40 students continued the study to the end.
Mr Barr measured ‘graduate attributes’ by using instruments used in the university’s psychology department, including multiple choice tests.