Level-up learning through action video games

Action video games may help you shoot for higher academic grades than expected
24 January 2022

Interview with 

Angela Pasqualotto, University of Geneva


Kid playing video games


Action video games get a bad rep, especially when it comes to how age-appropriate certain video game genres are for young children. But new research from the University of Geneva suggests that there could be some unexpected benefits to playing video games. Tricia Smith interviews Angela Pasqualotto…  

Tricia - I like to play video games to decompress after a long & exhausting... er, I mean a wonderful and fulfilling day at the office. But did you know that playing video games could be good for children's literacy? I'm not talking about educational games either: it's action games - Call of Duty, Halo, Overwatch, even Fortnite. It's games where you have to focus on lots of things happening at once and make decisions quickly that could make a difference. Sounds too good to be true, right? But Angela Pasqualotto explained:

Angela - We know that reading is, at its core, a linguistic skill, yet it relies not only on oral language abilities, but also on several executive functions like working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitor control. In particular, reading calls for an official extraction of the visual information from the page. It puts special demands on eye movements and attentional systems. That's why attention and control is involved and is crucial in reading.

Tricia - And when you were testing the effect of action video games compared with a non-action video game, what were the main findings of that study?

Angela - Training all these attention control and executive processes promoted not only attention and control per se, but also reading skills in Italian speaking children that were between 9 to 12 years old. What is interesting to notice is that these improvements were maintained 6 months later after the end of the training, and also influenced school grades in Italian at 18 months after the end of the training.

Tricia - So, just by playing an action video game compared to playing a game that was not action, you're getting these improvements in reading skill.

Angela - Exactly.

Tricia - Is that gonna be the same for other languages?

Angela - This is part of what we are doing right now. The game will be adapted into German, French, and English, and deployed in these four languages. The main aim is that we would like to understand how to alleviate the different roadblocks to literacy acquisition, because all these languages are very different in terms of autographic characteristics. The link between the sound of the language and the way in which it is written is very different between all these four languages. We expect our game to be beneficial where the extent of whether these different in terms of transparency or in the writing systems is still an open question.

Tricia - These benefits that you get in improving your executive functions by playing these action video games. Is that a benefit that I - at the age of 28 - will be seeing? Or is that something that you think happens just during the initial learning process?

Angela - Luckily for us, it is something that we can expect. It happens throughout our entire life. It is due to our incredible ability of the brain to modify and reshape due to intensive training. We could expect that children who have higher brain plasticity can benefit more from this kind of training. But this doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense even as adults to train our brain functions.

Tricia - What do you think about the negative stigma that's associated with kids playing video games all the time?

Angela - I'm a completely non-gamer despite the fact that I'm developing video games. I completely get that there is a stigma surrounding this topic and, as always, there is no clear specific answer that we can give. But what we can say is that the right amount of these kinds of action video games is certainly producing a positive effect on conditions. It is worth considering that there are positive impacts in playing video games.


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