The home video game industry is now over 30 years old. In that time, computer technology has improved at a geometric rate. A high speed elevator now has more computing power than the Apollo spacecraft that landed on the moon. The promise of computers and video games as teachers was clearly recognized in the 1980s when there was a nationwide push to get computers into the classrooms. In the years that have followed, researchers found that educational software and games can indeed have several very positive effects on children's academic skill. Over the same period, video games also moved into children's homes. (I define video games broadly here, as including arcade games, computer games, and home console games such as PlayStation.) Children began playing video games for increasing amounts of time, and the games themselves became more graphically violent over time. Parents, educators, physicians, and researchers began to question what the impact of these changes might be.
Among elementary and middle-school populations, girls play for an average of about 5.5 hours/week and boys average 13 hours/week. Playing games is not limited to adolescent boys. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that several companies are now designing video game consoles for preschoolers. Preschoolers aged two to five play an average of 28 minutes/day. The amount of time spent playing video games is increasing, but not at the expense of television viewing which has remained stable at about 24 hours/week.
Similar to earlier studies about television, the data about children's video game habits are correlated with risk factors for health and with poorer academic performance. When video game play is analyzed for violent content, additional risk factors are observed for aggressive behavior and desensitization to violence.
Video games are natural teachers. Children find them highly motivating: by virtue of their interactive nature. children are actively engaged with them: they provide repeated practice: and they include rewards for skillful play. These facts make it likely that video games could have large effects, some of which are intended by game designers, and some of which may not be intended.