Monday, 6 July 2015

Why kids should play more Minecraft, but only on PC

Video games are often portrayed as dulling the senses and making gamers dumber. However, a recent paper in the journal Economic Inquiry (gated, earlier ungated version here) by Agne Suziedelyte of Monash University might have just busted that myth.

Suziedelyte argues that:
In order to win a video game, players need to plan their actions, find relevant and discard irrelevant information among all information given to them, and remember their previous actions. Thus, video game playing is most likely to improve such skills as problem solving, abstract reasoning, pattern recognition, and spatial logic, which are part of fluid, or general, intelligence...
In the paper Suziedelyte uses data from the Child Development Supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to investigate "how game playing affects two skills, the ability to solve practical mathematics problems (mathematics reasoning) and the ability to correctly read English words (reading recognition)". She employed a variety of techniques to overcome endogeneity (time spent playing video games might be correlated with other determinants of cognitive skills), and measurement error in the time spent playing video games.

While similar to the paper I discussed yesterday where the sign on some statistically insignificant coefficients was discussed (when they are not different from zero), in the preferred model specification an additional hour spent playing video games was found to be associated with mathematics reasoning tests scores that were on average higher by 9.3% of a standard deviation. To put this in context, the effect was similar in magnitude to an additional hour spent on "educational activities" (like school or homework), which was associated with scores on average 9.1% of a standard deviation higher. Importantly, video games had no statistically significant effect on reading recognition (a placebo test), which suggests that more video gaming affects problem solving specifically and not cognitive skills more generally (and allays concerns about omitted time-varying variables driving the results).

Before you encourage your kids to spend all day constructing elaborate replicas of Hogwarts using Minecraft, consider these two additional results. First, there were diminishing returns to time spent on video games:
The estimated effect on an additional hour of video game playing on mathematics reasoning ability is largest (21.7% of a standard deviation) when a child does not play any video games... Video game time is found to no longer affect mathematics reasoning ability, when the number of hours played reaches 5.5 hours per day.
So, in other words limit children's video game time to most of their waking, non-school hours. Second:
The effect of computer game playing is estimated to be 6.2% of a standard deviation (significant at the 1% level), whereas the effect of console game playing is smaller (1.1% of a standard deviation) and not significantly different from zero. The difference between the two effects is statistically significant at the 5% level.
So, make sure your children are playing Minecraft on PC, not on XBox.

[HT: Marginal Revolution, back in April]

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