There is no shortage of questions here that relate to stopping or limiting computer time and game playing. What studies are motivating these concerns? I ask this as someone biased because I spent a lot of my youth on a computer and playing games and I am now a successful professional with a family and a good sense of balance (no 30-hour marathons anymore!) and while my parents were usually concerned, they never did anything to limit my use. I had a computer in my room.

I don't see why reading books is superior to playing on the computer personally, but I'd be interested to see some scientific, preferably long-term studies that establish facts about what constitutes abuse or addiction or otherwise unsafe levels of computer usage.

It seems a lot of people ask, "All my child likes to do is [x], how do I get them to stop and find something else that they will like doing?" When they really mean, "something I like[d] doing".

Note that monitoring/restricting what they do on the computer makes sense to me, e.g. white listing domains.

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    Great question! I have a similar background of games as a kid (on my Apple IIc!), although I always felt that books > games. I suspect it will be difficult to prove anything, but there has to be some research out there.
    – user420
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 23:35
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    As a compulsive reader when I was a child, I would comfortably state that reading is far more anti-social than game-playing. Gaming is often done in groups or with onlookers, and some of my fondest memories are playing computer games with someone. On the other hand, reading over someone's shoulder is considered to be the rudest action imaginable. The fact that the one thing you don't do at a "Book Club" is read, should tell you how social an activity it is.
    – deworde
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 9:22
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    Also, I wouldn't say reading is anti-social as much as I'd say it's solitary. Being well read can actually be a great benefit to one's social abilities.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 17:38
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    – user420
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 17:42
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    They are perceived inferior to (something) because PARENTS DO NOT KNOW computers and computers games. And it's a person habit to be afraid of unknown! Another scary thing - when a person (ones child) spend a lot of time with something. If you play soccer all your free time it is ok - soccer is known and safe (on amateur level ;)), computers - oh, so scary and unknown! Better stop them! Because doing nothing at all is guaranteed safe :) Gaming violence has nothing to do with original reason -it's just an excuse.
    – vlad2135
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 16:32

5 Answers 5


Although I don't claim expertise in the subject, there appear to be two functional sides to the debate between violent behavior and violent video games, with varying amounts of evidence to support either side.

Side saying video games causes aggression

It has been demonstrated in many experimental psychological studies that even brief exposure to violent media tends to have measurable effects on aggressive behavior. Behavior should be used slightly loosely here though, frequently measures of behavior are survey responses (e.g. given this situation would you punch this person) or some other controlled situation that is difficult to relate to behavior in normal human interactions.

This is then theoretically interpreted as, well slight exposure to violence can cause appreciable effects on aggression in the short run, so likely more long term exposure can theoretically cause individuals to become more aggressive and have more dramatic effects on behavior. Then apparently some studies have shown for observational samples that children who play more violent video games tend to be more violent.

Side saying there is unlikely any connection

Most of the critiques against the connections between violent video games and violence are in general critiques of the observational associations. So, unlike the experiments in which we can randomly pick a group of kids to expose to violence in a movie or a video game for an hour or two, we can't randomly expose kids to video games for a long time. No one is saying if you play a video game once you are going to get in fights on the playground, it is long term exposure we are talking about. So, the observational studies survey a group of kids, and ask them how often they play video games, and then ask them if they get in fights or other measures of violent behavior. The problem with this logic is though, the kids who choose to play violent video games likely differ from kids who do not play violent video games on a host of other characteristics besides playing video games. It is just as likely that kids who are already more aggressive are drawn to play violent video games.

Long story short, IMO, there is strong empirical evidence linking short term exposure to violent media and indirect measures of aggression in short time periods after being exposed. Where the evidence is lacking is the connection between long term exposure and real changes in behavior. The observational studies trying to establish this relationship are far from convincing.

Now, I have picked information up from various articles related to my field and just general news articles on the subject (so feel free to not take my word for it, and do some digging yourself). There is alot of stuff floating around the internet, and general searches would turn up a ton of material. One of the most recent popular papers on the Social Science Research Network was a paper

Now this isn't peer-reviewed, but the authors are credentialed. And you can always do a general search yourself for peer reviewed papers on Google Scholar. Just a simple search for violent video game brings up several highly cited papers and meta-analysis on the topic. This same question was also brought up on the skeptics site, Do violent video games cause violent behavior?, although those responses don't cite any more sources (besides wikipedia) than I am.

I realize this is more specific than you are asking for. But this is likely the most popular topic connecting game playing to behavior, and many of the same types of critiques connecting other game playing to behavior or health (such as lack of activity and obesity) can be applied in a similar manner.

  • I like this answer. Very good.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 18:08
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    If what you see on the screen doesn't influence your behaviour, then the estimated $500 bn spent on advertising this year was a bit of a waste, to put it mildly.
    – Benjol
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 12:14
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    @Benjol, good point about the intent of commercials. I suspect that influencing someone to commit violence is a bit different though, also it is not the explicit intent of the violent media makers for the consumers to commit violence.
    – Andy W
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 12:43

There are a couple of different sub-topics I have found to be the focus of research on video game and computer use by children.


The topic which has received the most attention is violence, particularly the perceived correlation between violent media and violent behavior in those who view violent programming/play violent video games.

As Andy W mentioned, there are a lot of studies on this topic, and again as Andy W mentions, there are claims that the research linking video games and incidents of extreme violent behavior are faulty and fail to acknowledge the significant methodological and constructional divides between existing video game research and acts of serious aggression and violence.

Some studies go so far as to claim that not only is the hypothesis that violent game playing was associated with violent behavior unsupported by the evidence, but focus on the improvements in visuospatial cognition.

Edit: A much more recent study also questions the validity of these studies, while reporting some significant potential benefits:

It turns out that a successful gamer is strategic and technically knowledgeable, and has good timing. Inconsiderate gamers, as well as those who act aggressively or emotionally, generally do not do well. 'The suggested link between games and aggression is based on the notion of transfer, which means that knowledge gained in a certain situation can be used in an entirely different context. The whole idea of transfer has been central in education research for a very long time. The question of how a learning situation should be designed in order for learners to be able to use the learned material in real life is very difficult, and has no clear answers,' says Ivarsson. 'In a nutshell, we're questioning the whole gaming and violence debate, since it's not based on a real problem but rather on some hypothetical reasoning,' he says.

Aggression and violence are not the only negative traits associated with extended computer use/video game play, however.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Computer use in general, and video games in particular, are associated with sedentary lifestyles. In a study of Swiss children, each additional hour of video games played daily was associated with a doubling of obesity risk.. However, that same document also cites a study of Australian children which found that after adjusting for covariates, there was no relationship between obesity and time spent with TV, video games, or computers. The paper then mentions that such null findings are common.

In fact, this same paper lists the results of numerous studies of various age groups and localities, and the results frequently seem contradictory.

Add to that the probability that computer use may not be the primary source of sendentary behavior (according to this somewhat older study, "the impact of computers and video games on sedentary behavior is probably not very large, especially when compared with television, as they together comprise only about 10% of the average daily media budget of children aged two to 18".), and computer use seems unlikely to automatically result in obesity on its own.


Claims of the addictive nature of video games have long been circulating (please note that I include that link only to illustrate the types of claims, as I saw no evidence that that site is remotely reputable, nor anywhere near as "unbiased" as they claim to be, especially since they proudly display "40% of World of Warcraft players are addicted" based off of a single doctor's claim).

I am skeptical of the majority of these claims, as many seem based upon the idea of creating a new definition of video game or internet "addiction" based solely upon the amount of time spent, while others seemingly ignore the possibility of major mental health issues that may have expressed obsessive or violent behavior regarding games or internet usage as a symptom, rather than an underlying cause. However, at least one study has shown that excessive video game playing can result in a number of problems that resemble symptoms of gambling addiction as defined by the DSM-IV.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

This study claims that:

Adolescents who play more than one hour of console or Internet video games may have more or more intense symptoms of ADHD or inattention than those who do not. Given the possible negative effects these conditions may have on scholastic performance, the added consequences of more time spent on video games may also place these individuals at increased risk for problems in school.

However, this study uses Young's Internet Addiction Scale, which is a tool to measure Internet Addiction Disorder, which is itself not a currently valid disorder, and has not been recommended by the American Medical Association for inclusion in the upcoming DSM-V.

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    Thanks for focusing on more than just violence. Lots of good interesting material and valid questions once you eliminate violence from the equation. Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 16:39

Limiting screen time (and sometimes, although rarely book time) has forced my kids to learn to be social creatures, with the ability to play, interact, problem solve and enjoy being in peoples company. I am a strong believer in socialization in all forms.

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    So, in the vein of purely anecdotal discussion, don't you think that on-line interaction in video games can (depending on the game) ecourage problem solving and socialization? How are books preferable in that context? On-line interactions are notoriously uninhibited - don't you think that adds value in terms of learning to deal with all differnet types of people? I spent a good portion of my childhook talking to people from other countries and continents and the "how does [x] work over there?" discussions are limitless and very eye-opening.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 2:33
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    Limit does not mean outlaw. Yes, some computer time and computer interaction, at the appropriate age (maybe another question?) is a necessity in today's world. (I teach technology in grades K through three and I am a big proponent of teaching computer skills very early. However, we do need to be careful and therefore limit 'screen time' in order to ensure that our children learn face to face interaction. Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 2:49
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    So I understand your perspective, but I don't understand how you arrived at it. Perhaps you can elaborate.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 2:51
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    On-line interactions being notoriously uninhibited is a gigantic drawback, IMHO--especially for kids--namely in the preteen/teenage years. It's even a problem for adults. Read the comments at the bottom of nearly any online newspaper article and you will see humans interacting with each other in truly offensive ways. Now, that said, there are other benefits to online socializing--a big one being like the SE sites...it allows people to search out others with like interests a lot easier. One can find groups to fit-in with online that don't always exist in their particular region.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 17:42
  • Are you phrasing that from the receiving or the sending end? Are you saying that it's a drawback because preteen/teenage children can say things they wouldn't normally say? Or because they would hear things they wouldn't normally hear? Or both? In either case, what does limiting computer use address - given that these objectionable things exist in the real world just the same. Isn't preparation and education the answer, because it is cross-cutting? It sounds like you're relying on censorship to accomplish what could be better achieved through lessons of right and wrong.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 18:13

As parents, we provide all sorts of guidance and rules about how our kids' time is best spent, and whether those activities reflect our values and tastes, without needing empirical studies showing that one choice is "better" than the other. I think focusing on that may be missing the point of such rules entirely.

Some gaming is fine, there's nothing wrong with fun, but video games and TV are the "empty calories" of kid activities. I don't want my son to whittle away countless hours doing any one thing when there is so much of the world to explore and things to learn about. Video games are a huge time sink. So can lots of other things be -- I wouldn't want him spending every waking hour reading, or watching TV, or playing football, studying, or running. But among wastes of time, I think the very worst would be ones that are sedentary, lack face-to-face socialization, and simultaneously do not impart any particular valuable knowledge or skills that will help him in the world outside that particular activity.

Analogy: There are no empirical studies that show that eating a wide variety of ethnic food is better than a simple bland diet that is nutritious. But I think my life is more enjoyable for having a wide palette, I observe that other adults who enjoy new and exotic things tend to lead what seems to be to be fuller, more interesting, more enjoyable lives (totally subjectively, I'm not sure any study can reflect this), so I'm thrilled beyond belief that my son does not have a limited range of tastes stereotypical of kid and I would work hard to keep him from working himself into a habit of eating only one thing.

I know there will be people (like the original poster) who say "I spent all my free time playing games, and I turned out fine." I'm sure you did. But you'll never know how you would've turned out if more time had been spent exploring other activities and interests.

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    My point with that wasn't that I turned out OK, it was that as an adult, I still have a healthy desire for variety and "life" - my teenage years of indulging didn't "ruin" me and it seems very common for parents to think it will.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 0:08
  • Perhaps it's a bit of vicarious guilt. "I wish my parents exposed me to more things than they did so I should try a bit harder with my kids." On the other hand, indulgences left unchecked aren't always good either. For instance, I know my kids would eat McDonalds for every meal if they could. :)
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 0:52
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    I know what you mean.. I try to see everything as an opportunity. If they really like playing computer games, I should come at them with "want to see how they work? want to make your own?" -- travel WITH them as opposed to against them, know what I mean?
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 19:27

Some things I remember seeing recently.

  • This study links the amount of time spent playing video games to decreased quality of relationships with friends and family
  • There are studies that link violence in video games to aggressive behavior, but I can't remember where I saw this.
  • On the other hand, this study says that we can't just regard video games as black and white--good or bad. There are both positive and negative effects.
  • In support of the last point, this study demonstrates that some active video games are good for exercise, while this study says that young girls can benefit substantially from playing video games when parents participate.

I haven't actually read any of this research in depth, so I can't make any comment as to the quality of the research or my agreement/disagreement with the results.

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    Correlation does not equal causation. Next up: Going to College causes kids to drink!
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 18:51
  • @Doug Thanks for the quality, well-thought-out comment. I don't think anybody implied that correlation is causation. The OP asked what types of studies support limiting video game usage. These are simply a few examples of studies parents might base these decisions on, as well as a few counter-examples. You're probably right to say that we cannot establish causation (like I said, I didn't read the research), but you'd be naive to assume that the correlation is uninformative simply because it doesn't imply causation. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 19:13
  • I didn't mean to offend you. I'm merely trying to point out that these kind of studies are spun out of control by anyone who wishes to advance their particular agenda. There's virtually no effort to actually address things like... does playing video games make people have poor relationships, or are people who have poor relationships drawn to play video games? There's a difference, despite the argument that they perhaps should work on their relationships instead of playing games, because the later applies to a subset of the population, whereas the former is cross-cutting.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 19:29
  • Those are some excellent points. The studies above should be taken just for what they're worth. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 19:34

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