The Truth About Video Games

At this point, it’s common knowledge that childhood obesity is growing at an alarming rate in the United States. Parents, educators, and researchers alike are searching for the cause and ways to reverse the trend and increase physical activity in children.

Video games and screen time are often blamed for growing inactivity. The argument is that the more time children spend in front of a computer or TV, the less time children have to join in organized sports or play outside.


Contrary to that common assertion, video games may not be entirely to blame for the decline of active children. Cheryl K. Olson writes on sports video games and real-world exercise, and her findings state that the former does not undermine or reduce the latter. “A four-year longitudinal study of over 10,000 children aged 10–15 ( Taveras et al., 2007 ) failed to find a link between year-to-year changes in hours of television viewing and leisure-time physical activity, suggesting that these are ‘separate constructs, not functional opposites.’”


Olson’s findings prompted her to ask, “If video games don’t reduce physical activity, can they promote it?” She reviewed research on sports-based or active video games, exergames for short. In many of the studies, the results were inconclusive or researchers found that exergames did not promote exercise for a variety of reasons:

  • Lack of explicit instruction
  • Lack of narrative or story that motivate children to continue with games
  • Not understanding what a game character was saying
  • Being yelled at by a competitor character
  • Difficulty of game
  • Lack of social interaction


The results of the research prove that an increase in screen time is not synonymous with an increase in obesity. So what can schools and classrooms do with this information?

One option is to recognize the decline in children participating in afterschool sports. Because children may not receive the 60 minutes of recommended activity outside of school, teachers can incorporate physical activity into the school day in other ways including active learning opportunities, activity breaks, and even exergames.

If teachers decide to incorporate exergames into their classroom, Olson’s findings could be very helpful. Teachers can study the bulleted list above that details why children might withdraw from exergames and take steps to increase interest or enthusiasm. For example, if you find that a competitive-based exergame makes certain children withdraw, try a cooperative exergame instead. If you notice some students hanging back from an activity, make sure they fully understand the game. Teachers may also consider adding a partner component to increase the social aspect of the game.

Our own research indicates that there are many benefits to incorporating active learning into the classroom, so why not give it a try?