Why do kids like playing video games so much? Is it because they’re violent, misogynistic or just plain mind-numbing?


Generation Next speaker Dr Wayne Warburton has conducted research that shows the impact of violent games on the adolescent brain has both short and long term effects. None of them good.


Let’s leave violent games aside for a minute, and focus on the less blood-thirsty.


I believe the reason that so many people play video games – and at this point it’s important to note that the average age of an Australian gamer is 32, with 76% of gamers being over 18 – is because games support the four concepts of Self Determination Theory (SDT).


SDT states that for an individual to have a real sense of engagement or ownership, four factors must be in play.


Autonomy – The sense of being able to do what you want, when you want.

Mastery/Competence – Getting better for the sake of getting better without the need for extrinsic reward.

Relatedness – Knowing the context with that what and the who.

Purpose – The reason for doing what you’re doing.


The best games tap into this.


Autonomy – many games today have few if any rules. Think Minecraft or other roleplaying games; gamers can take on the roles they want, choose to accept or decline missions, pursue the stated goal or devise their own.


Mastery – Gamers constantly receive feedback as to how they are improving, and how to improve further. If they suffer a setback, invariably they can pick up where they left off… there is no Game Over any more, and as such not fear of failure.


Relatedness – I genuinely believe that one of the main reasons that online gaming is so popular is because of the relationships formed – even for 60mins. Players connect across the globe, teaming up for a common cause, which creates a shared purpose.


I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that gaming – like anything – in moderation could, in actual fact, be good for your wellbeing, so I was understandably intrigued when I came across this research by QUT, in an article called, “Why video games make healthy stocking stuffers.”


Dr Daniel Johnson and his gaming research group at the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (YAWCRC) found that:


  • moderate (non-excessive) levels of playing are associated with positive emotions and improved mood, improved emotion regulation and emotional stability and the reduction of emotional disturbances
  • playing video games can be a healthy means of relaxation, stress reduction and socialising
  • people who play video games in moderation have been shown to have significantly less depressed mood and higher self-esteem compared to those who don’t play or who play excessively.


Author: Dan Haesler, he is a teacher, consultant, and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminars. He is the co-developer of Happy Schools and blogs at http://danhaesler.com/ and tweets at @danhaesler