Video game playing and academic performance in college students.
Article Type:
Video games (Psychological aspects)
Aggressiveness (Psychology) in adolescence (Risk factors)
Burgess, Stephen R.
Stermer, Steven Paul
Burgess, Melinda C.R.
Pub Date:
Name: College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0146-3934
Date: June, 2012 Source Volume: 46 Source Issue: 2
Event Code: 310 Science & research
Product Code: 3651920 Electronic Games NAICS Code: 339932 Game, Toy, and Children's Vehicle Manufacturing SIC Code: 3944 Games, toys, and children's vehicles; 7372 Prepackaged software
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
The relations between media consumption, especially TV viewing, and school performance have been extensively examined. However, even though video game playing may have replaced TV viewing as the most frequent form of media usage, relatively little research has examined its relations to school performance, especially in older students. We surveyed 671 college students concerning their history of video game usage and school performance. In general, video game players had lower GPAs, but this finding varied by gender. Video game players also reported a greater likelihood of playing video games to avoid doing homework. There were consistent negative associations between liking to play violent video games and school performance.


The popularity of video games has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. Video games now rival television and film as entertainment media for leisure time use. Contemporary youth report watching between 2 and 3 hours of TV per day and playing video games between 23 and 60 minutes per day (Marshall, Gorely, & Biddle, 2006). Eight-one percent of American youth report playing at least once per month and about 9% of 8-18 year olds can be considered pathological users (Gentile, 2009). Fewer studies have addressed adult playing time, but 49% of gamers are between 18-49 years old and the average game player age is 34 (Entertainment Software Association [ESA], 2010). Overall, approximately 81% of 18-29 year olds play video games (Lenhart, Jones, & MacGill, 2008).

Video game research has primarily focused on the relations between aggression and video game use. Video game playing has been associated with increases in aggressive behavior and decreases in prosocial behavior (Anderson, 2004; Gentile & Anderson, 2003). Relatively little research has examined the relationship between video game use and other behaviors like school performance. Before TV viewing and other forms of media became mainstream forms of entertainment, educators and parents expressed concern that this entertainment might begin to compete for academic time and eventually decrease school performance (Gentile & Anderson, 2003; Shin, 2004). As video games become more prevalent, concerns are also being expressed about potential detrimental relationships between video game play and school performance.

This concern is proving to be particularly interesting due to the attributes of video games that make them unique. For example, the effects of video game playing could be greater than for other types of media because of the interactive demands of playing the video game. Students may report being able to study while watching TV, whereas playing a video game may require more focused attention. Video games also incorporate basic learning principles and instructional techniques such as actively reinforcing behaviors and an adaptable level of difficulty that make them more appealing (Swing, Gentile, & Anderson, 2009).

The relation between media consumption and school performance is complex. There are many different types of media, (e.g., television, music, video games, internet, magazines) with some having demonstrated educational value (Din & Calao, 2001). TV has received the most research attention. Children that view programs that focus on educational content, such as Sesame Street, typically display more advanced language skills than their peers (Wright, Huston, Murphy, St. Peters, Pinon, Scantlin, & Kotler, 2001). This is especially true of children from disadvantaged homes. However, TV viewing in general is associated with lower levels of doing homework, studying, and leisure reading (Shin, 2004). Studies examining the effects of video games have also yielded mixed outcomes. For example, video game playing and computer use have been associated with higher levels of spatial skills, (Reisenhuber, 2004; Terlecki & Newcombe, 2005) but overall poorer performance in school (Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, & Brodie, 1999).

Theoretical accounts of the effects of video game playing have focused on two major issues: time spent playing and level of violent content. The time-displacement hypothesis proposes that time spent engaged in one activity prevents the tie from being spent in another, more fruitful activity. Many children and adolescents have a certain amount of discretionary or free time. The majority of free time is spent on nonproductive pursuits such as TV viewing and video game playing (Larson & Verma, 1999) which become problematic when they consume too much time. For example, the time-displacement hypothesis proposes time spent watching TV displaces time that would or could be spent engaging in other activities that may be more educational in nature (e.g., reading, studying) that may then decrease educational achievement. (Beentjes & Van der Voort, 1989; Shin, 2004). Partial support for the time-displacement hypothesis comes from several studies examining the relations between TV viewing and academic and behavioral outcomes. In general, more than 10 hours per week of TV viewing has been associated with decreased school performance (Shann, 2001) and increased sedentary behavior (Nelson, Gordan-Larsen, Adair, & Popkin, 2005; Van de Bulck & Van Mierlo, 2004). Similar results may be expected for video game playing as their interactive and engrossing nature makes them more appealing than less interesting activities such as homework. Results have been mixed with most studies finding negative correlations between time spent playing video games and school performance (Anand, 2007; Ogletree & Drake, 2007) and others finding no significant relations (Wack & Tantleff-Dunn, 2009).

The violent content of video games may be especially troublesome. There is a negative relation between exposure to violent media and academic performance (Huesmann,1986; Huesmann & Miller, 1994). Increased exposure to violent video game playing may disrupt school performance by increasing aggressive behavior (Anderson & Dill, 2000). For example, there is a negative correlation between average high school grades and violent video game exposure (Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh 2004). One possibility is that exposure to violence in video games increases aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and angry feelings among players who may become more likely to engage in hostile interactions with peers and authority figures such as teachers (Gentile et al., 2004; Swing et al., 2009). These interactions could result in lower school attendance, increased suspensions, and poorer interactions with peers and teachers. Interestingly, violent video games are among the most popular for both males and females (Funk, Buchman, &, Germann, 2000), but a greater percentage of males prefer violent games (Hartmann & Klimmt, 2006).

One of the oversights in video game research is the paucity of studies examining college age students and academic variables. Many current college age students grew up playing video games, whereas twenty years ago this would not have been the norm. Thus the relation between video game play and school performance may have changed as video games have become more mainstream. Educational level is associated with video game play. Current students who are at least 18 are more likely to play video games than non-students. Approximately 82% of full-time and 69% of part-time students report playing video games compared to 49% of non-students (Gentile, 2009). Video games may also now be experienced as part of a social interaction. Video games may serve as social facilitators or group activities either in person or via online play (Wack & Tantleff-Dunn, 2009). Many video game players and non-players spend time watching others play video games (Entertainment Software Association [ESA], 2010; Stermer et al., 2006).

The Present Study

In the present study, we surveyed college students to examine the relations between video game playing and school performance. College and high school GPA were used as measures of school performance. Video game exposure was measured via self-reported time spent playing video games per week. Passive video game exposure, watching other people play, was examined in order to create a more complete picture of time spent in video-game related activities. Participants also completed questions designed to assess their interest in and exposure to violent video games. We predicted video game playing would be significantly negatively correlated with school performance. In addition, we expected a stronger relation for males than for females. We expected that video game watching would be significantly negatively correlated with school performance. We predicted that high frequency video game players would have poorer attitudes towards homework than lower frequency users. Finally, we predicted that violent video game enjoyment would be significantly negatively correlated with school performance.



Six hundred seventy one participants (391 females and 280 males) completed the survey materials. All participants were between the ages of 18 and 31 years old (M = 21.6, SD = 2.5). Participants were primarily recruited from general psychology classes at a regional university in the Midwestern United States and received course credit for their participation. Participants were 80.5% Caucasian, 7.8% Black / African American, 4% Latino / a, and 7.7% Multiethnic or other.


To increase sample size, the materials were provided in either an online survey format or a paper survey. Approximately half of the participants were given the survey in a paper form and the others completed the survey through a website designed explicitly for this survey. The questions were identical in both formats. There were no significant differences between the groups that used the paper versus the online format (all p's > .05).

The survey was designed to assess general demographic information, school performance, and experience playing video games. Demographic information requested included age, sex, and school classification (e.g., year in school and highest year of schooling completed. Self--reported high school GPA, college GPA, and ACT score were used as measures of school performance. Current video game experience was assessed by asking the number of hours per week video games were played and the number of hours per week spent watching others play video games. Prior video game experience was assessed by asking at what age the participant first played video games. Participants were also asked how often they play video games instead of doing homework (six point likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree).

A subset of 282 participants (174 females, 108 males) completed a longer questionnaire containing additional questions about violent video games. There were no significant differences between those asked the violent video game questions and those not asked (all p's > .05). For example, the participants rated how likely they were to use the most violent way to play a video game, how much they liked to play video games because they are violent and how angry they get when they lose when playing a video game using a six point likert scale from not likely to very likely.


Participants completed the survey after giving informed consent. They were asked to complete either the paper copy or the online version of the survey. For the paper version of the survey, participants were asked to read and sign an informed consent form if they agreed to participate. For the online version of the survey, the first page consisted of the identical consent form and consent was indicated by proceeding to the end and submitting the survey.


Descriptive statistics for the demographic and video game experience variables are presented in table 1. Participants reported a wide range of prior video game playing experience and current use. Overall, 58.9% reported playing video games at some time. The average hours played per week was 3.9 (SD = 8.2). There was considerable variability in the hours played per week (range = 0 to 100). Of those that had played video games, the average age of first playing was 9.3 (SD = 3.9) years. Participants also reported watching others playing video games an average of 2.0 (SD = 4.9) hours per week. There were differences in the video game experience variables by sex. Approximately 40% of the females reported playing versus 89% of the males. Approximately 47% of the females and 56% of the males reported watching others play.

More males than females played at least 10 hours per week (28.2% versus 4.6%). Approximately 5% of males and females reported watching others play at least 10 hours per week. Due to the differences in distribution of video game playing between females and males, we conducted and reported separate regression analyses for males, females, and the overall sample.

Multiple regression analyses

Multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine the amount of variance in college GPA explained by the measured variables (see Table 2). For the overall group analysis, age, ACT score, sex of participant, and high school GPA were entered as control variables. The measures of VG playing (i.e., age regularly first played video games, hours played per week, hours watched others play per week, and the interaction of hours played and watched per week) were entered to examine the relations of video game playing experience to school performance. All variables were entered simultaneously. When the entire sample was examined, the combination of variables explained 27.7% of the variance in college GPA (p < .001) with high school GPA, ACT score, and hours of video games played per week the only significant unique predictors. The video game variables contributed approximately 1 percent unique variance to the prediction of college GPA.

Since patterns of video game playing differed significantly between males and females, we conducted additional regression analyses with males and females separately. For females, the combination of variables (i.e., age, ACT score, high school GPA, age regularly first played video games, hours played per week, hours watched others play per week, and the interaction of hours played and watched per week) explained 22.0% of the variance in college GPA (p < .001), with age, high school GPA, and ACT score the only significant unique predictors. For females, the video game measures did not add significant unique variance to the prediction of college GPA. For males, a different pattern of results emerged. The combination of variables explained 34.3% of the variance in college GPA (p < .001) with high school GPA, ACT score, age first started playing video games, hours per week play video games, and the interaction of hours per week play and hours per week watch video games played the significant unique predictors. Hours of video games watched per week was not significant (p = .052). For males, the combination of video game measures added 4.7% unique variance to the prediction of college GPA.

Homework analyses

It is possible that students who spend more time playing video games will spend less time completing homework and studying. We examined the relations between video game playing and homework (i.e., level of agreement with statement, "I often play video games instead of doing homework"). Overall, those who agreed more strongly with the homework statement tended to play video games more hours per week (r = .38, p <.001), watch others play more hours per week (r =. 13, p <.01), and to have begun playing video games regularly at an earlier age (r = -.14, p <.01). For males, those who agreed more strongly with the homework statement tended to play video games more hours per week (r = .31, p <.001), watch others play more hours per week (r = .13, p <.05), and to have begun playing video games regularly at an earlier age (r = -.13, p <.05). For females, those who agreed more strongly with the homework statement tended to play video games more hours per week (r = .27, p <.001), watch others play more hours per week (r = .15, p <.05), and to have begun playing video games regularly at an earlier age (r = -.16, p <.05). The same pattern of results was observed for males and females suggesting that females who played video games were also more likely to spend less time on homework. Therefore, in the present study, there was some evidence that those who spend more time with video games also spend less time involved in academic activities. Future research needs to be conducted examining class attendance and more diverse measures of study time.

Violence and video games analyses

Previous researchers have suggested violent video game playing is associated with school performance because of increases in aggression and decreases in prosocial skills (Anderson & Dill, 2000). We examined the relations of college GPA and violent video game playing in the subset of 282 participants described in the methods section (see table 3). Eight of the ten questions pertaining to violence and video games were significant in the overall sample. However, this was mainly due to the males. When the females were examined separately, only one correlation was significant. In contrast, seven of the ten questions yielded significant correlations for the males. In general, males that expressed a greater preference for playing violent video games or using violent solutions within the video games had lower college GPAs. The directionality of these findings should be interpreted with caution given their correlational nature.


Large numbers of children, teens, and adults spend significant portions of their leisure time playing video games. The effects of exposure to the violent content of many of these games has been widely examined and documented. Just as they did with TV viewing, parents, teachers, and policy makers have expressed concern over the potential detrimental effects of video game playing on time spent in educational activities and school performance. Previous studies have found inconsistent relations between video game playing and school performance (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Creasey & Myers, 1986). However, today's young adults have had the opportunity to grow up with video games as part of the main stream culture. The potential effects of video game playing may be changing as more people are playing at younger ages and continuing to play into adulthood.

This study extended the current research examining video game playing and school performance by in two major ways. First, we focused on college students. Most previous research has examined the relations of video game playing and school performance in younger players, but today's college students grew up in a world where video games were readily available and are now part of the mainstream culture. Second, we included measures of video game playing and watching others play. Video games have become a central part of the social world for many youth and adults. Therefore, it is important to develop a more complete understanding of the potential effects of direct video game exposure as well as the time spent with others around video games.

We found that video game playing was significantly negatively correlated with college GPA, but the results differed by sex. The negative associations with video playing were consistently more evident for the male players. Although females currently make up a significant percentage of those who play video games, males in our sample played more often, started playing at a younger age, and played different types of games. For example, males were significantly more likely to play violent video games.

We examined the time spent playing as well as time spent watching others playing video games. As video games become more social in nature, it is important to consider the time that is spent in passive as well as active exposure to game content. We found students that spent more time watching others play video games tended to have lower college GPA's. This is an important finding since video games are no longer the solitary endeavor that stereotypically defined the early game systems. Video game playing has now become a central social activity for many players (Stermer, Burgess, Burgess, Davis, McCarter, Jones, & Johnson, 2006; Wack & Tantleff-Dunn, 2009).

Why might video game playing be associated with lower college performance? There are several possibilities. Shin (2004) examined four groups of hypotheses regarding how television viewing might stimulate or reduce academic achievement in children. The hypothesis most obviously relevant to video game use was the time-displacement hypothesis. It holds that media consumption displaces or takes away from intellectually demanding activities such as homework and studying (Beentjes & Van der Voort, 1989). Media consumption is thought to be more entertaining than school-related activities. Video games are considered the most engaging and potentially addicting of the various forms of media (Anderson, 2004; Swing et al., 2009). It is possible that frequent video game players spend less time on homework and studying than lower frequency players and non-players, but the relations between amount of time spent playing video games and homework have been shown to be low (Schie & Wiegman, 1997). In the present study, those that agreed more strongly with a question about doing homework ("I often play video games instead of doing homework") tended to have significantly more video game playing experience. The same pattern of results was evident for males and females. Therefore, in the present study, there is some evidence that those who spend more time with video games also spend less time involved in academic activities. Future research needs to examine more diverse measures of academic involvement such as class attendance.

It should be noted that one major problem with the displacement hypothesis is the assumption that if the targeted behavior were removed (e.g., TV viewing, video game playing), it would be replaced by studying or another relevant academic behavior. For example, if a student spends 10 hours per week playing video games, then this is time that is not available for more educationally relevant activities. However, video games may merely be the most attractive option available to those that would not engage or those that are less likely to engage in academic behaviors. There are many competitors for students' attention. The decision to play a video game or to study may operate differently with younger students versus older youth and adults. On one hand, older students should possess more highly developed reasoning systems and better self-regulation abilities. However, older students, especially college students, are also much less likely to have an outside figure, such as a parent, to help place appropriate guidelines on time spent playing and may have to navigate the gauntlet of peer pressure alone. This may place lower level students and more immature students at greater risk.

Another possible explanation for the relations between video game playing and school performance focuses on the violent nature of many video games. Playing violent games has been shown to decrease prosocial behavior and to increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Gentile et al., 2004). Then increase in violent behavior may lead to lower school performance by decreasing education time available to students.(Gentile et al., 2004; Huesmann, 1986). For example, more violent students may get into more fights at school or be more antagonistic in their interactions with teachers. Anderson and Dill (2000) noted that this type of students is less likely to be represented in a college population compared to a sample including younger students. A subset of 282 participants from the current study were also asked questions concerning how much they liked violent video games. For males, 7 of the 10 measures of violent video game questions were significantly correlated with college GPA whereas only one measure was significantly correlated for females. Additional research is needed to examine the potential role of violent video game playing in school performance.

There are several important limitations to the current study. The use of one time self-report measures is an area of concern because of the difficulty of estimating time spent on an activity over time. One shot self report measures of weekly video game playing estimates have been shown to moderately correlate with diary assessments (Burgess & Jones, 2010). Our primary measure of school performance was a global measure of GPA. The validity of the findings could be increased with more measures of academic performance and functioning. The findings are also limited by the nature of the correlational design. Longitudinal examinations would be needed to more completely examine the role of video game playing in school performance in older students. Longitudinal studies would also permit a lifespan perspective to be used in determining how video game, especially violent video game, playing may factor into social functioning and aggressive behavior in the academic setting.

In summary, the current study adds to the existing literature examining the relations between video game playing and school performance. We found a pattern of significant negative relations between time spent playing and watching video games and academic performance in college students. The pattern was more pronounced for males and those with high levels of video game exposure demonstrated the lowest GPAs. Future research is needed that explores the mechanisms of these relations. The landscape of video games is in a state of flux. More and more students, both male and female, are playing and observing others playing video games. Games are now readily available in various portable media devices and systems such as the Wii are now marketed directly towards the non-traditional gamer. An answer to how video game playing relates to school performance will require researchers to continue to expand how they define the question.


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Southwestern Oklahoma State University


Oklahoma State University


Southwestern Oklahoma State University


(1) The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) currently assigns a rating of E (everyone), T (teen) or M (mature) to all computer and video games available for purchase. The E designation is deemed appropriate for all ages, the T designation restricts purchase of the game to those 13 and older and the M designation restricts purchase to those 17 and over.
Table 1
Descriptives for demographics and video game experience

                                     OVERALL (N = 671)

Variable                           Mean    SD     Range

Age                                21.56   2.53    18-30
ACT score                           23     3.89    13-35
High school GPA                    3.59    0.43   1.6-4.0
College GPA                        3.24    0.54   0.5-4.0
Homework (a)                       2.25    1.62     1-6
Video games played week (hours)    3.93    8.23   0.0-100
Video games watched week (hours)   2.04    4.94   0.0-87
Age first played video games       9.26    3.85    2-24

                                         (N = 280)

Variable                           Mean    SD     Range

Age                                21.94   2.58    18-30
ACT score                          23.16   4.06    15-35
High school GPA                    3.49    0.45   2.0-4.0
College GPA                        3.16    0.56   1.0-4.0
Homework (a)                       2.96    1.75     1-6
Video games played week (hours)    7.10    9.52    0-75
Video games watched week (hours)   2.10    3.67    0-35
Age first played video games       9.18    3.89    2-24

                                     FEMALES (N = 391)

Variable                           Mean    SD     Range

Age                                21.29   2.47    18-30
ACT score                          22.87   3.76    13-35
High school GPA                    3.66    0.4    1.6-4.0
College GPA                         3.3    0.52   0.5-4.0
Homework (a)                       1.76    1.31     1-6
Video games played week (hours)    1.67    6.25    0-100
Video games watched week (hours)   2.00    5.67   3.0-22
Age first played video games       9.34    3.83    3-22

(a): I often play video games instead of doing homework: Rating on
scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree)

Table 2
Multiple regression analyses predicting college GPA

Predictor variable                Overall     Males       Females
                                  (N = 671)   (N = 280)   (N = 391)

                                    Beta        Beta        Beta

Age                                 .04        -.04         .12 *
ACT score                           .29 *       .28 *       .32 *
High school Gpa                     .31 *       .34 *       .21
Sex                                -.05          NA          NA
Video games played week (hours)    -.13 *      -.14 *      -.12
Age first played video games        .04         .15 *       .09
Video games watched per week        .02        -.21         .07
Play and watch interaction          .07         .26         .05

Overall model F                   23.6 ***    17.9 ***    10.0
Full model variance explained     27.7        34.3        22.0

* = p<.05, ** = p<.01, *** = p<.001

Table 3
Correlations between questions about violence in video games and
college GPA

                                       Overall    Males      Females

I am likely to use the most violent     .13 *      .15        .07
way to play a video game

I like to play video games because     -.29 ***   -.33 **    -.15 *
they are violent

I get angry when I lose a video game   -.12 *     -.22 *      .09

I use video games as an opportunity    -.17 *     -.17       -.07
to vent my anger

I yell at the TV when I lose a video   -.11       -.11       -.03

I would rather not play a video game    .13 *      .32 ***   -.04
that contains violence

I think violent video games make        .09        .28 **    -.08
people violent

I break things when I lose a video     -.18 **    -.19 *     -.08

There are not enough non-violent        .20 **     .27 **     .14
video games

I think video games are too violent     .22 ***    .37 ***    .05

All video game questions on scale of
1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly

Significant group differences in percent use at least weekly
noted by: * < .05, ** < .01, *** <.001

Overall N = 282
Gale Copyright:
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