Video game motives in relation to school performance, sleeping habits, perceived health… (Wallenius et al., 2009)

School has started for many and will have to adjust their habits for the rigors of schooling and homework. That also means managing their time with video games. So I found this nifty article from Marjut Wallenius whom, by my knowledge, is one of the few concerned about the interaction between parenting (at least an aspect of it) and video games among children.


The aims of this research were to describe Finnish adolescents’ different motives for digital game playing, and to examine relations between digital game playing and parent–child communication, school performance, sleeping habits, and perceived health. A questionnaire was used to assess a nationwide postal sample of 12–18-year-old Finns (6761 respondents response rate 69%) inwinter 2003. Among respondents, 4085 adolescents played digital games and answered questions on digital game motives. Two main motives emerged: instrumental (learn new things and procedures, have a common topic for conversation, use and develop game playing skills, experience different roles/worlds) and ritualized (pastime, entertainment; recover, relax; escape everyday life, forget worries). The importance of all motives increased for participants with longer playing times. Instrumental motives were more important to boys and younger respondents. They were associated with earlier bedtime, worse perceived health better mother communication, and better school grades, but only among boys. The importance of ritualized motives increased with age and was related to better school performance, worse sleeping habits, and worse perceived health in both sexes. Digital games seem to have the same basic functions as media in serving adolescents’ mood management and stimulation seeking among boys, gaming is part of the male socio-cultural communication context.

I’ve refrained myself from making a study review on video. After watching youtube videos from films for the fustilarian and Daniel Floyd, I’ve humbled myself into having realistic expectations.

Going over their introduction section and literature review, the research on the topics of interest (e.g. health effects, social relations, family relations, and sleeping habits) seem to indicate (IMO) an inverse U-shaped pattern from media use, an appropriate amount of time is beneficial, but overuse (how it’s defined is yet to have found consensus) can be detrimental.

However, the authors argued video game play motivations have signficant roles in predicting what people play, how long they play and what they reap from play. Two types of motivation in media use are being investigated: instrumental refers to goal or purposive-oriented activity, such as information seeking. The other is called ritualized is a non-specific content and undirected goal activity, such as passing time, entertainment or relaxation.


Participants: 4085 Finnish participants, they are a fraction from a nationwide survey called the Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey. Data was collected in winter 2003. Over half of the sample is boys; it consisted of 12-year olds (14.1%), 14-year olds (39.2%), 16-year olds (31.7%) and 18 year-olds (14.9%). Other details: most live within two-parent families, and with parents of middle level education. Participants who played video games were selected. They obtained their data from self-administered questionnaires mailed across the country; average response rate is 69%. They assessed whether their sample differed from the population who did not responded and they believe there are none.


Exposure time to video game playing: participants answer how many hours they’ve spent playing on computer, internet, TV or console games per day. Answers were on a 6 point scale (1 as not at all, 6 as more than 5 hours a day). I would ask more specific questions on that, people have more time to play over the weekends than the weekdays.

Video game playing motives: 7 items answered on a 4-point scale, participants indicate how important these 7 motives are to them when it relates to gaming. For example, “Games are a uniting interest and common topic to discuss with friends.” They’ve compiled these 7 items from previous research which is a nice touch.

Parent-child communication: 2 items on a 4-point scale, participants indicate how easy or difficulty to speak to their mother and to speak to their father about ‘things that really bother you’. It sounds like a good measure, since if a participant finds speaking to their mother about things that bother them easy, then one would have no problem talking about other issues, but this is only an assumption and, again, it’s a small glancing measure.

School performance: participants report their school grades based on the latest report card in comparison to the class average on a 5-point scale. Why can’t we ask the school to provide the grades or at least have parental consent?

Educational plans: participants indicate their future academic plans. e.g. taking their high school exams and apply to university, take the exams but not apply to university, take a vocational degree or not continuing their education.

Sleeping habits: participants indicate their usual time of going to bed on an ordinary school day. They also indicate how often they felt tired during daytime during the last month on a 5-point scale (e.g. not at all, 1-2 days a week to daily).

Perceived health: participants self-rate their current health status on a 5-point scale ranging from very good to very poor. A self-report measure, it’s likely that participants will submit better-than-actual answers, but at least many participants will answer like that. But I will stop droning about the ramifications of impression management on surveys.

Another, tad bit objective, measure is the health complaints measure where participants indicate whether they complain of the following during the last six months: stomach-ache, tension or nervousness, irritability or temper tantrums, trouble falling asleep or waking at night, headache, tembling of hands, feeling tired or weak, feeling dizzy, neck-shoulder pains or low back pains. It’s a good measure that everyone can relate to since these health complaints are commonplace.


Now remember, the sample consisted of youths who played video games at least once a week, which consisted 44.4% of the sample, followed by 26.7% who played 1 hour per day, 21.8% who played 2-3 hours/day, 7.1& who played more than 2 hours or more per day. Of course, it was found that girls had a large impact on the distribution of video game time play. It was also found that as age increases, play time decreases which lends support for other studies (e.g. Williams et al., 2008).

This is stating the obvious, the majority (72%) of participants’ motivation for playing video games is to pass the time and for entertainment (which they responded as very important or important). This is followed by developing gaming skills among the 12 and 14-year olds whereas relaxation is second commonly cited motivation among 16 and 18 year olds.

They combined the seven motivation items into two categories: Instrumental motivations (e.g. learn new things in gaming, develop gaming skills, exploring new experiences and having common conversation topic among friends) and ritualized motivations (e.g. pastime or entertainment, relaxation and getting away from everyday life).

What they found was three-fold:

Instrumental motives were important among younger teens, as the demographic ages up until 16 year olds, instrumental motives falls while ritualized motives increases. The authors’ interpretation is that as youths get older they would play video games as a way of coping or manage their moods away from other coping methods. The authors, however, caution that more studies are needed to examine the developmental trajectories of children’s motives of video game play.

Boys endorsed more of the instrumental motives than girls, but there were no differences for ritualized motives. I’m having some difficulties in reducing the authors’ interpretation as either they are over-explaining or I missed something in the paper. If I got this right, it bogs down to video games are for boys-only and girls would feel that video games isn’t appropriate to their gender role or does not cater to their lifestyle. I thought video games appeal to boys because they’re good at it and can relate with each other on their skills.

Those who played more hours, the correlations with instrumental and ritualized motives become more significant. There were no differences in ritualized motives among those who played 2-3 hours/day and 4-5 hours/day. However, there were no relative differences between the types of gaming motivations. The authors weren’t sure why, is it because they have fewer other activities? I don’t know either.

Using hierarchical multiple regressions to examine the relations of parent-child communication, school performance, sleeping habits and perceived health to gaming motives. This is what they found:

Instrumental motives: younger age, longer video game play time (both accounted for 16.1% of the variance for boys, 7.9% for girls), negative relations with perceived health, more health complaints, earlier bed time, easier mother-child communication, better grades are correlated with instrumental motives (accounting altogether at 1.5% of the variance) for boys only.

Ritualized motives: older age, longer video game play time (both accounted for 8.3% of the variance for boys, 5.1% for girls), better grades, more ambitious educational plans, daytime tiredness and more health complaints (3% for girls, 2.6% for boys) are correlated with ritualized motives. Furthermore, girls who went to bed late and boys with lower perceived health were correlated with ritualized motives. The authors argued that gaming under ritualized motives serve as a way to cope with stress from school and manage mood. However, they noted a certain paradox that while gaming may seem relaxing, it also means that gaming requires concentration and mental focus which doesn’t seem to help the mind to relax. Perhaps, video games stimulate the brain on a different cognitive aspect, is much lighter mental exercise than school work or the immersive nature allows our mind to loosen up and experience flow.

The literature is mixed about the relationship between gaming and school performance. This study is contributing to this muddled relationship.

When it comes to daytime tiredness and late bed times, they suggested that a future study on how youths divide their leisure time among different kinds of activities might be useful in explaining this pattern.

When it comes to health, they offer two possible explanations. One, video gaming doesn’t encourage a physically active lifestyle (at least for many people). Two, they argued that it’s not video gaming, but another factor, such as school stress, that is contributing to lower perceived health.

The more I read the article, the more Konata Izumi seem to fit with the typical profile in the study

The more I read the article, the more Konata Izumi seem to fit with the typical profile in the study

The study is not so bad, but I do feel that the discussion section of the paper seem to have taken a different tone from the rest of the paper, as if they have found more stuff, but did not include them in the introduction section. For example, they started writing about video gaming culture and media texts. I don’t recall any of that in the introduction, even it’s there it did not left an impression on my memory. If they are going to discuss video gaming culture, they’ve should at least include a measure of how involve children are with video gaming culture (e.g. how often do they visit gaming website, how much do they know about future video games or how often do they discuss video games online or with friends and what do they talk about).

Wallenius, M., Rimpelä, A., Punamäki,R-L., & Lintonen, T. (2009). Digital game playing motives among adolescents: Relations to parent–child communication, school performance, sleeping habits, and perceived health. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 463-474.


2 thoughts on “Video game motives in relation to school performance, sleeping habits, perceived health… (Wallenius et al., 2009)

  1. An afterthought to this article, the fact that younger children have higher instrumental motivations in gaming gives another reason for video games to have educational potential. Daniel Floyd’s video on incidental learning seem to be a potential avenue.

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