Video games and positive adolescent development (Durkin & Barber, 2002)

It’s a bit old, but since people have been talking about negative effects of video games on children, I thought getting some positive might cheer people and gamers up.


It has been speculated that computer game play by young people has negative correlates or consequences, although little evidence has emerged to support these fears. An alternative possibility is that game play may be associated with positive features of development, as the games reflect and contribute to participation in a challenging and stimulating voluntary leisure environment. This study examined the relationship between game play and several measures of adjustment or risk taking in a sample of 1,304 16-year-old high school students. No evidence was obtained of negative outcomes among game players. On several measures–including family closeness, activity involvement, positive school engagement, positive mental health, substance use, self-concept, friendship network, and disobedience to parents–game players scored more favorably than did peers who never played computer games. It is concluded that computer games can be a positive feature of a healthy adolescence. 

Although, the abstract might seem exciting to everyone who believes that video games are at least good for children’s development at the time of the article was published. However, the data date back in the late 1980’s.

Nevertheless, I believe that historical data can shed some light on how early generation computer games have an association to children’s psychological well-being. First, a little history lesson from Dmitri Williams’ history chapter showed that critical pundits were always throwing knives on new media. Even though the games back then were primitive compared to today, the criticisms and concerns were the same. Having research data during that time period might support or not such concerns, then and now. Second, since several researchers pointed the inconsistencies on VG effects on aggression, this study brought me the question on whether there are consistencies with other psychological effects, such as self-esteem, self-efficacy (e.g. perceived computer skills, leadership, friendship, etc.) and mood.


Participants: Part of longitudinal project started in 1983, data was obtained from 1304 participants in 1988 when they were in 10th grade and around 16 years old.


Computer game use: The questions were exclusively about computers and not consoles or arcades. One question asked how often they play computer games on a scale of 1 (never) to 7 (daily). Very broad question in my opinion, no hours per day or anything like that we have today.

Adjustment: Questions that asked about their levels of depressed mood (4 items) and self-esteem (3 items). Again on a scale of 1 to 7 on how often they felt so and so…

Self-concept: Self-reported questions on a scale of 1 to 7 on how good they are compared to others on some following concepts, such as intelligence, leadership, interpersonal skills, mechanical skills and computer skills. I don’t think anyone would want to rate themselves as being very stupid, but it does tells us whether computer games makes us feel more competent in something. But I seriously would want participants rate other people’s competence.

Risk Behavior: Items measuring for : aggression, disobedience, substance use and truancy. The scales asked how often they did these behaviours in the last six months. The items they described isn’t convincing and therefore they are not generalizable to the constructs, except for truancy.

GPA: Schools give access to participants’ GPA.

Family closeness: on a scale of 1 to 7 on how close the participants are to their family.

Friend characteristics: asked on participants’ friends characterisitics, whethere they were good standing students or friends that do risky behaviours (drinking alcohol, etc.).

Participation: How often participants are involved with clubs or sports.

Academic attachment: A scale of 1 to 7 on how much they liked school.

Mothers’ education: What was the mothers’ highest level of education.


Before the analyses, the authors grouped the participants into three groups based on computer game use. From none, low (score of 1 to 5) and high (score of 6 or 7). Not surprisingly, girls were mostly in the none group while boys were mostly in the low or high group, so they’ve taken gender into consideration. They also found that mothers’ education level has an near significant association to pariticipants’ computer game use, so they decided to covary mothers’ education level.

Adjustment: low group reported less depressed mood than the none or high group. No other differences found. Low group reported higher self-esteem than the none or high group. The high group’s self-esteem scores were not different from the none or low group.

Self-concept: There were some significant differences, both the low and high group reported a higher score on their self-concept of intelligence than the none group. The none group reported a lower score for mechanical skills, whereas the high group reported a higher score. Without surprise, computer skills is associated with higher computer game use. With the high group, reported the highest score.

Risk behavior: A near significant association was found for computer game use and aggression, where higher use indicated higher aggression. But it is not statistically significant. Low group reported less disobedience than the high or none group. Substance use looks like it’s negatively correlated with higher computer game use, being high group reported the lowest score. A near significant association was found for truancy, being that the high group reported less truancy.

GPA: the low group reported higher GPA scores than the none or high group. No other differences were found.

Family closeness: the none reported lower score than the low or high group.

Friend characteristics: the none group reported having more friends who do risky behaviours than the low or high group. Although, their scores were low.

Participation: the none group reported lower scores for participating in sports and clubs than the low and high group.

There were gender differences in various measures, but there were expected results and had no interaction with computer game use.


In short, the low group seem to have the highest positive outcome in relation to computer game use, whereas those in the none group are not so different from the high group, except for substance use, family closeness, school attachment and sports and club participation.

Basically, the results tells us that the association between various psychological measures and computer game use are helpful to adolescents’ development. Durkin and Barber offered some explanations on their results and how it differed with others studies. They argued that well-adjusted individuals are likely to have a diverse number of activities, including computer games, which explains why participants in the low group scored the highest amongst the three groups. Another explanation is that computer games have an effect on individuals which promotes cognitive skills which can help academic performance or family closeness when it’s played as a family activity.

They also offered some interesting explanations why their results differ from other studies that found aversive results from computer game playing. For example, the association on GPA to computer game use was probably due to sample characteristics, since their sample is on 16 year-olds while other studies were college students. They argued that there are some kind of sensitivity in relation to the academic environment, meaning high schools exam may be hard, but university exams are harder, so more time playing as university student has big effect on GPA than a high school student, obviously. IMO, I argue that the changes in GPA is related to the nature of the academic setting, most likely that what children learn in video games has something in common in their schools. Whereas in a post-secondary environment, there is little connection between what is learned in computers games and participants’ major or education. I guess it makes sense for war games to be played in military academies.

It should be kept in mind that the average scores for all groups for risk behaviours are considerably low (from 1 to 2) and the score differences between groups don’t go beyond .50 on a 7-point scale. Nor they did not report effect size, so I have no clue whether computer game use in the 1988 would have any real-world effects. But, it does mean that computer games are not as serious in hurting or helping children’s psychological development, since the high group did not differ much on some measures from the none group.

However, there are numerous limitations in this study to consider, some of which are good points to consider. I’ll present the authors’ take on study’s limitations: They did not include console or arcade game playing. Popular computer games in the 1980 are mostly adventure games and god-games. Consoles, however, have Super Mario and Zelda, and arcades have the first-generation beat’um up games. This is a serious flaw because children at that time period are mostly likely to be playing these platforms rather the computer. They did not look into game preferences, so they did not asked how many liked to play violent computer games versus non-violent computer games. IMO, a majority of computer games contain some form of violence (and that was before the ESRB rating system), but could we classify computer games’ ‘violent content’ from 1980’s as violent? Well I’m a little weak on gaming history, so that’s another study to look forward to.

IMO, they should’ve looked at family income as an additional factor. Back then, owning a computer might have been quite expensive so financially secure or middle-class households might afford one and children in that class are well-adjusted compared to lower income families. So playing or even having a computer might or not just be a spurious relationship to psychological well-being. Considering today that computers are quite affordable, it might be worth a look if the results were consistent with this study.

Durkin, K., & Barber, B. (2002). Not so doomed: Computer game play and positive adolescent development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 23(4), 373-392.


One thought on “Video games and positive adolescent development (Durkin & Barber, 2002)

  1. Pingback: GTA: San Andreas, a closer look at it’s themes of race, criminal behaviour and violence and what this communicates to its audience. – Cultural Theory Studies

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