Dr. Rachel Kowert investigates the science of how video games affect children in ‘A Parent’s Guide to Video Games’

The world of video games can be a treacherous place for many parents. Always in the forefront of the press, the intersection of video games, violence and antisocial behavior worries many parents, but a lot of the studies released to the public give a very narrow glimpse into the effects of video games. Dr. Rachel Kowert’s new book, “A Parent’s Guide to Video Games,” sets out to provide moms and dads with a reliable resource of information and advice backed up by over 100 scientific studies on video games and the way they affect physical, social, and mental development among children.

“A Parent’s Guide to Video Games” investigates the issues of video game addiction, worsening ADHD symptoms through extended game play and the correlation between agression and violent games. Dr. Kowert doesn’t just look into some of the potential negatives of game play; she also investigates the positive ways that video games can impact children. This guide will help parents look at all the information the scientific community has gathered as they try to decide what games to choose for their children and whether they want their kids playing games at all.


Over the last 40 years, video games have transformed from a niche market to a multibillion-dollar industry. No longer limited to arcade parlors, video games are everywhere and are accessible at any time. Along with the popularization of video games has come a growing concern about their ability to transform those who play them into antisocial killing machines who are desensitized to violence, have no friends, and will forever live in their parents’ basements. But are these fears based in reality?

Over the last 20 years, psychologists, sociologists, and media scholars have been working hard to answer these questions. Until now, their findings have largely remained insulated within scientific circles and inaccessible to the general public. A Parent’s Guide to Video Games breaks the long-standing barriers between science and society by providing the first comprehensive guide to the science behind the headlines.


Why did you start studying the psychology of video games?

During my clinical internship at Santa Clara University, I started to see an increase in concern from parents about the potential negative effects online gaming may be having on their children. However, when I began digging through the research to find answers for these parents, there was none! Game studies as a field was just beginning and there was little to no information about how video games may be impacting its players. It was then I knew this was something I wanted to research.

As a parent, what was the biggest question you had about video games before diving into this research?

I began my career in game studies interested in finding out if, how, and why online gaming impacts players socially. We all know the stereotype of the socially inept, reclusive, lonely gamer. Was this stereotype true? If our children are spending more time socializing with others online – often others they do not know in offline contexts – does negatively that impact their social lives in their everyday world?

Does playing violent video games make children more aggressive or more likely to commit a violent crime?

This is the question I get most often and is also the topic that is most sensationalized in the media! Short answer: no. There is no evidence that playing violent video games makes someone more likely to commit violent acts or violent crime. The research with aggression is a little more nuanced. There is no evidence of long term changes in aggression, but some research has concluded that playing violent video games may contribute to small, short term increases in aggressive thoughts.

Is it possible for kids to get addicted to video games? If so, what are the signs?

Video game addiction is currently being researched by psychologists around the globe to determine if it is a true behavioral addiction and what the appropriate diagnostic criteria and treatment plans should be. Put simply, video game addiction is not present until players have lost all control over their playing and it has begun to have a detrimental effect on all aspects of their lives, including education, work, friendships, hobbies, general health, and psychological well-being.

 Does playing video games exacerbate conditions like attention deficit disorder, or ADD, among children?

As video games are often fast-paced, there has been some concern as to whether playing these kinds of games may aggravate the attention problems associated with ADD. Contrary to these claims, video games have actually emerged as promising tools to help improve attention and reduce impulsivity for individuals who show symptoms of ADD. That said, more research is needed before video game play can be recommended as part of a treatment plan.

Isn’t online gaming anti-social?

This is a common misperception! Online gaming is actually incredibly social. I think the perception of it being an anti-social activity comes from the fact that from the outside in, parents often see their child sitting alone in front of a computer with a headset on. What they don’t see is that they are connected with hundreds – maybe thousands – of other players.

Are there any types of video games you recommend?

All types! It depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for something to play together as a family, “party” games are a good way to go. These games are typically created with four or more players in mind and are good for a large crowd of varied ages. Looking for something to challenge your mind? Puzzle games are also great for all ages. It really depends on what you are looking for and what you are interested in.

Do you think news media have a tendency to sensationalize reports about video games and their correlation to negative behaviors?

Absolutely! Sensationalized headlines have really misconstrued the science of video game effects. For instance, when it comes to the link between violent video games and violent behaviors, there are far more studies “debunking” these sensationalized claims than supporting them.

Who do you think is doing the most definitive scientific work on the topic currently?

The work looking at violent video games and violent behavior would probably be the most definitive in the field as it has received the most attention from researchers. In the last few years, several meta analyses have been published demonstrating that the links between violent video games and violent behavior/crime are not consistent with the claims made by the media.

What’s a positive effect of video games on children?

There are many! Video games can provide a great avenue for learning new skills (such as problem solving) as well as new information (such as world history). Games provide a shared activity for friends to enjoy together. This is particularly the case for children who may be shy and have difficulties initiating conversations with others, as video games provide a perpetual topic of conversation.

What do you want the biggest takeaway from your book to be?

I want parents to know that it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to video games. In fact, I would argue there is more good than bad! Video games are great vehicles for learning, they are highly social spaces, and they provide an arena for children to experiment with new roles and ideas. I want parents to be empowered by the science behind the headlines and more confident in making media choices for their families.


Dr. Rachel Kowert is a research psychologist from Austin, Texas, with a PhD in psychology from the University of York (UK) and an MA in counseling psychology from Santa Clara University. Dr. Kowert has dedicated her career to studying video games and the gamers who love them. As a researcher, psychologist, gamer and parent, she strives to educate other parents about the potential dangers and unique contributions that video games can bring to our everyday lives.