The news: If you needed a way to defend your gaming habit, this is it: Kids who play video games for an hour or less a day are happier, more sociable and less hyperactive than those who don't play at all, according to a recent Oxford University study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Part of the reason video games might be beneficial for young people, say researchers, is not only do the games help challenge the brain by encouraging players to problem solve, but they give kids a way to relax and — if talking isn't their strong suit — an excuse to spend time with others.
Researchers looked at 5,000 boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 15. Those who played video games for less than an hour each day had more friends, less emotional problems and were less hyperactive than their peers.
But there's a catch: At a certain point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Kids who dedicate more than an hour of their day to Zelda or World of Warcraft are not more sociable or happier. At this level, the positive effects of gaming seem to disappear. And in kids who game for more than three hours a day, the effects are the opposite: Excessive gamers are less sociable and more depressed.
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Decades of previous research backs up this finding: Gaming for excessive periods has been linked with all sorts of health problems, from poor vision and bad posture to problems with attention and an increased risk of being overweight or obese.
Thankfully, the majority of kids who play video games say they play for about an hour each day. But for the 10-15% of young people who spend more than three hours racing virtual cars or trying to defeat a giant turquoise demon, it might be time for parents to step in.
And for the rest of us who enjoy the occasional other-worldly quest, a few minutes spent taking down an evil orc might be just the key to some beneficial down time.