The majority of youth nowadays play video games. A survey from the United States found that 97% of teens aged 12-17 engage in video game play behavior  and almost 40% of Dutch youth indicate to play video games for at least 3 hours on an average weekday . Since this leisure activity has become ubiquitous in today’s society, it is imperative that we understand the effects it may have on youth. Unfortunately, research on this pastime has been very one-sided, focusing on possible negative consequences of video game play behavior. The field has mostly been exploring traditional media issues, such as the relation between gaming and aggression  or addictive, pathological gaming behavior . Significantly less attention has been given to possible beneficial effects that playing video games may have on youth. Furthermore, most research on this topic suffers from a lack of scope, using only self-report measurements and exclusively investigating solitary play. The literature is wanting in studies regarding the social context of video games. Video games can lead to a myriad of social experiences for youth, such as providing a topic of conversation or a focus for hanging out among peers . However, almost no studies exist that looks at gaming from the perspective of peer networks. Therefore, this project looks at the effects that video games have on the well-being and social development of youth.
My PhD-project emphasizes on the potential beneficial effects of video games, contrasting with the more common research on negative consequences of game play behavior. The research field has recently been calling out to shift focus from the negative outcomes of gaming to the possible beneficial effects it might have [6-8]. However, the idea of categorizing the effects of playing video games in general as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is far too simplistic. There exists a lot of variety between different games and the way they are played, making this a rather complex behavior. The aim of this project is to pinpoint the elements in video games that promote adolescents’ well-being, while careful consideration is put into examining the complexity of video game play behavior.
In order to do this, the project has been separated in to two different lines of research. The first line will take a descriptive approach to investigate adolescents’ game play behavior and the relation to their psychological and social well-being. This is done using a longitudinal study that collects both self-reported and sociometric data from adolescents in grade seven to ten. Data is gathered on several outcome variables that have been linked to video game play in previous research, such as self-esteem, loneliness and aggression. We want to replicate previous findings as well as gain more insight in specific element of game play behavior for interesting future explorations. Furthermore, peer nominations and ratings will connect this data to adolescents’ social adjustment, such as peer status and social networks. Given the public interest in the effects of video games on youth development, it is remarkable that few existing studies have used sociometric data. The proposed project addresses this gap of information by collecting data in the classroom over multiple waves, using both a cross-sectional and a longitudinal study design.
The second line of research will take an experimental approach in order to test the effects of video game play on behavior causally. More specifically, I examine whether specific elements in games can increase prosocial behavior and affiliation in a lab setting using an experimental study design. The ultimate goal is to investigate whether cooperative video game play at school can be used in order to improve dyadic relationships among peers.