Video Games and Behavior

Video games can affect behavior

In our household, we’re in the midst of a full-blown Skylanders obsession. For those of you who have no idea of what I’m talking, Skylanders is a video game – and a brilliant, brilliant selling strategy.

For your Wii, PlayStation, or Xbox system, you buy the starter pack, which comes with the game DVD, a portal, and a couple of figurines. By placing a figurine on the portal, the figurine comes to “life” in the game. Then you buy more figurines to add to the game. And there are many, many figurines to buy. And then new ones come out. And you can easily become obsessed with acquiring these figurines – because they’re in the store, and then they’re gone. And you want them. Okay. Maybe not you. But me.

Skylander on Portal
Skylander on Portal

My older son sleeps with his Skylanders figurines, and he is serious about keeping track of the Skylanders he has and more importantly the ones he doesn’t have.

I’m attached to an offshoot of the system’s game — the Skylanders Lost Island game (for mobile devices). I send the Skylanders on missions. They come back with money, gems, and wishing stones. I buy things with the loot to decorate the islands and keep up with the Jones’. This is nothing like the Atari I played in the 1980s. This is not my Frogger or Ms. Pac Man game.

As you probably can tell, I don’t have much experience with video games. There is too much excitement for something that has been around for a few years. I’ve not had much interest in video games since the 1980s.  In fact, I didn’t even have that much interest in them in the 1980s. But the Skylanders Lost Island game has me hooked.

A good percentage of the population understands my obsession. In the USA, 97% of teens1 and 50% of adults2 play video games. Although there is positive recognition of elite gamers3, there is also a very real social stigma attached to gaming. Parents are judged if they let their kids play, for how long their children play, and so on. There is an uncomfortable, insidious “knowledge” that there are little positives from gaming as negative results tend to make headlines. The first hit that I received after searching “video games” in Google News is an article on video games teaching players to hate women.4

Can video games affect behavior?

A recent article provides strong evidence that video games have an effect on behavior, but note, the effect can either be positive or negative depending on the type of video game.

Greitemeyer and Mügge5 conducted a meta-analysis to examine whether video games affect aggression and pro-social outcomes. Now, if you’re wondering what in the world is a meta-analysis, it’s a method to synthesize results from a number of already published studies to determine whether there is a pattern across these studies.

For this meta-analysis, Greitemeyer and Mügge5 used 98 independent studies for a total of almost 37, 000 participants. The meta-analysis focused on studies testing a) violent video games in which the goal is to harm another game character and b) pro-social video games in which the goal is to benefit another game character. The authors examined how these video games affected aggressive and pro-social behavior (e.g., aggression and helping), cognitions, emotions (e.g., anger and empathy), and arousal.

The results show that violent video games increase the aggressive measures and decrease the pro-social measures. The reverse happens with pro-social video games; they decrease aggressive behaviors, cognition, and emotion and increase prosocial behaviors, cognitions and emotion. Importantly, violent and prosocial video games only have a small effect on behavior. Video games are just a one of many things that can shape a person such as genetics and family environment.

Happy playing! (Note to self: In moderation.)





1 Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A. R., Evans, C., &Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games, and civics (Report No. 202-415-4500). Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved June 25, 2004, from

2 Lenhart, A., Jones, S., & Rankin Macgill, A. (2008). PEW Internet project data memo: Adults and video games. Retrieved June 25, 2004, from

3 Morris, R.  (2014, June 23). College recruiting gamers as athletes. College Recruiting gamers as athletes. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 24, 1014, from,0,4334654.story.

4 Ditum, S. (2014, June 23). Sex and the NPCs: Videogames are teaching their players to hate women. NewStatesman. Retrieved June 24, 1014, from

5 Greitemeyer, T., & Mügge, D. O. (2014). Video games do affect social outcomes: A meta-analytic review of the effects of violent and prosocial video game play. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 578–589.


Image Attribution

Video Gamer: Steve Andrew

Skylander on Portal: Lj. Velisavljevic