Digital discovery

Video games increase boys’ literacy

Date published: 2011-09-13 2:12:00 PM

With the start of school, many parents may worry their sons are spending too much time playing video games and not enough hitting the books. But, according to SSHRC–funded researcher Kathy Sanford from the University of Victoria, playing video games can actually increase boys' literacy skills.

Motivated by recent media on how girls are outperforming boys in school and how boys may be spending too much time playing video games, Sanford decided to see if there was an unseen connection between video games and learning. She watched boys playing video games—both in and out of the classroom—and found that, although the boys were reading and writing minimal amounts of text, they were gaining a different sort of literacy: thinking, team–building and ethical skills.

“Teachers and parents need to be aware of what's going on,” Sanford says. “We just say, 'Don't play; it's bad,' but really it's not. We should be addressing what they’re learning from the games and finding opportunities to talk to them about it.”

In interviewing the study participants, Sanford discovered that the boys' thought processes during game play were very sophisticated. For example, besides just blowing up the bad guys, they were also thinking about the morality of different situations and whether the violence became excessive or wrong.

Sanford also concluded that video games aren't necessarily taking boys away from reading and the traditional idea of literacy. In some cases, video games are leading them to it. “If boys are playing a game, and they find that they really like the time period depicted, they'll look for books that will allow them to learn more about the subject.”

As part of the research project, Sanford created a documentary titled, “The Literacy of Video Games: What Kids Learn, How We Can Help and Why It Matters.” The video helps share Sanford’s findings with parents and educators, allowing them to better understand how video games can aid literacy.

And with video games' increasing popularity, that's good news.