4.2 Gaming: Risks and rewards

In this section, we look at the potential benefits and risks of gaming for young people and families.

Gamers who are in control of their gaming, and play at a healthy level for them, can experience a range of benefits from playing video games. National Literacy Trust research with 11-16 year olds found healthy gaming can:1

  • Improve reading skills

    Video games can provide young people with a route into reading. 4 in 5 (79%) young people aged 11-16 read materials related to gaming once a month. 1 in 3 (35.3%) gamers believe playing video games make them better readers.

  • Support good communication with friends and family

    Young people said that gaming helps them build social connections, both online and in real life. 3 in 4 (76%) talk to their friends about video games, compared to only 3 in 10 (29%) who discuss books.

  • Build empathy

    2 in 3 (65%) young people said gaming helps them imagine being someone else.

  • Support mental well-being

    3 in 5 (60%) parents said that communicating with family and friends through gaming was helpful to their child’s well-being during COVID-19 restrictions.

However, gaming is also a potentially harmful behaviour, and a minority of gamers experience gaming disorder.

Gaming disorder is defined by the World Health Organisation as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests.'2

People experiencing gaming disorder may have impaired control over gaming, and continued or increased gaming despite experiencing harm, such as impacts on relationships, study or work, and financial harms.3

Recognition of harmful gaming as a disorder is relatively new, and estimates of its prevalence vary as there are no standard international screening tools as yet. A recent international systematic review estimates between 1.95% and 3.05% of the general population would be classified as having a gaming disorder.4

Risk factors for experiencing a gaming disorder include:5

  • Being male
  • Being young
  • Having poor physical health
  • Being from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic community

A 2020 review found that people experiencing a gaming disorder are also more likely to experience a gambling disorder.6 It is not yet clear if gambling is a risk factor for developing gaming disorder, or if experiencing harmful gaming means people are more likely to gamble.