Video games can improve (self-reported) graduate skills in higher education

Tim van der Zee

Video games do not always have a positive reputation and are seen by some as a waste of time, or even lead to aggression, although there is little empirical evidence for this. Other studies, however, show how gaming can also have the potential to improve the gamers' skills, including skills that are consider very useful and important to higher education. In a recent study by Matthew Barr, college students participated in a randomized controlled trial in which half the participants regularly played multiple commercial computer games for several hours per game over the span of 8 weeks.

This study measured the effects of playing these video games on the development of the desirable skills and competences sometimes referred to as ‘graduate attributes’. Specifically, they measured three skills/attributes:

  1. adaptability - an individual difference construct that influences how a person interprets and responds to different situations
  2. resourcefulness - the ability to independently perform daily tasks and to seek help from others when unable to function independently
  3. communication skills - the ability to perceive socio-interpersonal relationships and adapt one's interaction goals and behaviors accordingly

A large effect size was observed with mean score change 1.1, 1.15, and 0.9 standard deviations more positive in the intervention group than the control on the communication, adaptability, and resourcefulness scales respectively. The large effect size and statistical significance of these results support the hypothesis that playing video games can improve self-reported graduate skills. The findings suggest that such game-based learning interventions have a role to play in higher education.

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