Playing computer games helps improve math scores—but only for boys, study says

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      Turns out that the hours teens spend with a controller in their hand might be good for education—but only if they’re a boy.

      A new study by the Vancouver School of Economics at UBC suggests that playing multiplayer online games helps increase math test scores for teenagers.

      Taking data from surveys conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) between 2003 and 2015, academics discovered that teenage girls scored two to three percent lower than boys on standardized math test scores.

      Up to a third of that difference, the researchers believe, could be attributed to daily videogaming.

      On average, boys play multiplayer online games much more frequently than girls. According to the PISA survey, 47 percent of boys participated in daily gaming, while only 16 percent of girls turned on their consoles seven days a week. Of those, 36 percent of boys played collaborative games—known as massively multiplayer online games—every day, in comparison to seven percent of girls. Both groups used the internet to chat online at an equal rate.

      “Playing games intensively likely enhances some math skills, such as strategic problem solving and visual-spatial skills,” says lead researcher and UBC economist Nicole Fortin. “This gives boys a distinct gendered advantage in math, which introduces another obstacle in closing the gender math gap. Girls are forced to swim upstream to be on equal footing.”

      Despite evidence that regular videogaming boosts test scores, however, researchers believe that it will take more than encouraging girls to play games in order to level the playing field. Frequently criticized for its male-dominated culture, women can feel excluded from or are victimized by the gaming community, with rape and death threats targeted at players who reveal their gender.

      “Gaming culture prioritizes male heroic characters rather than females,” Fortin says. “When female game characters do appear, they are often sexualized. Some girls who play computer games face harassment in the gaming community, which deters them from fully participating. Issues with gaming content and the gaming community need to be addressed first.”

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays