Despite the old stereotypes about video games rotting your brain, a new study provides the latest evidence to the contrary, with the data showing that gaming every day is linked to improvements in academic performance.
Research in Australia involving more than 12,000 high school students found that, when it came to internet usage, students who regularly played online video games scored higher in maths, reading, and science tests than their peers who didn't.
"Students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science," says economist Alberto Posso from RMIT University in Melbourne. "When you play online games you're solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading, and science that you've been taught during the day."
The study used Australian data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tested students from more than 700 schools in 2012 and collected information on their personal interests and online activities.
Posso suggests that students who regularly spend time playing online games are developing analytical and problem-solving skills that can also help them in their schoolwork.
"Sometimes [players] have to understand some of the principles of chemistry even, so they really have to understand science," Posso told Bridget Brennan at the ABC. "Some psychologists have argued that massive online player games can be beneficial to cognitive development."
But while gamers appear to be reaping academic gains in their downtime, not all internet use seems to be so beneficial. Posso found that teenagers who check Facebook and other social media sites every day risk falling behind academically, with the data putting them 20 points behind in maths compared to students who never use social media.
"You're not really going to solve problems using Facebook," Posso told the ABC. "What's interesting, from an economic perspective, there's a very high opportunity cost of time, where we're spending a lot of time doing something that may not necessarily be associated with performance in school."
But time spent on social media isn't just wasted time academically, Posso says, acknowledging that students who are heavy social media users might be turning to things like Facebook because they're finding their schoolwork too difficult.
"[It] may also indicate that they are struggling with maths, reading, and science and are going online to socialise instead," Posso said in a press release. "Teachers might want to look at blending the use of Facebook into their classes as a way of helping those students engage."
While the study draws an association between gaming and grades, it's important to note that it hasn't proven causation – and Posso isn't ready to say that gaming is what's leading to better grades.
One possibility could be that some students find it easier to get their study and homework done faster. There's likely a number of factors involved, including skills associated with gaming, how students choose to fill their spare time, and family environments. Posso says it's a promising area for future studies to investigate – and other researchers agree.
"It's interesting that this study showed a positive correlation between online gaming and academic performance, but we really need better ways of understanding how and why people play video games before we're able to tease apart what that correlation actually means, if anything," biological psychologist Peter Etchells from Bath Spa University in the UK, who wasn't involved with the research, told Samuel Gibbs at The Guardian.
"A number of researchers have been trying to highlight this issue for a while," he added, "but we really need more detailed research and nuanced data to answer these sorts of questions more confidently."
Although we might not be able to explain the link just yet, other recent research suggests gaming is good for your learning abilities, powers of memory, motor skills – and even offers promise for recovering from brain injuries.
So while scientists figure out exactly what's going on here, at least we can feel good in knowing that gaming is probably doing us more good than harm.
The findings are reported in the International Journal of Communication.