Are Sports Video Games Really a “Game Over” for Society?

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Sports video games are often cast in an unfairly negative light.

Oh, you’re still reading? Good - here me out.

For many people, video games are simply seen as wastes of time that serve absolutely no good for society. Amongst gaming genres, I have noticed that one of the most heavily critiqued is sports video games.

People often scoff at the players of sports video games stating that the individual “should just go outside and play the actual game in real life instead of wasting their time playing a sports video game.” Academic research has not helped much either to bolster the public image of sports video games as studies on video games usually focus on investigating the negative effects of video games in terms of their supposed relationships with behaviors such as aggression and violence.

What has often been ignored is the positive impact that sports video games have, especially on the lives of youth. This article aims to highlight the positive effect that sports video games have, so turn on your console, grab your controller, and let’s take a look!

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A major positive impact of sports video games is that playing sports-related video games actually predicts increased involvement in real life sports among adolescents and early adults. In a 2016 study, Adachi and Willoughby sought to investigate the association between playing sports video games and participation in real life sports for adolescents and emerging adults. Surveying a sample of 1,132 subjects annually over the course of three years, the researchers found a “long term predictive effect of sports video game play on increased involvement in real life sports.”

My childhood sports career serves as anecdotal evidence of this relationship. What motivated me to want to play baseball was not the Toronto Blue Jays. What actually motivated me to play baseball was from my playing of Mario Superstar Baseball for the Nintendo GameCube. Yes, you read correctly, playing as Mario in a Nintendo video game had a larger impact on my choice to play baseball than any of my early exposure to real life baseball teams.

Adachi and Willoughby concluded that their study contributes to the growing research on the positive effects of playing sports video games. Clearly, sports video games have positive impacts on the lives of youth.

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Now, of course, there is one major important point that needs to be made very clear. This study investigated the impact of sports games only. Thus, one should be careful before they start saying that games like Mario Odyssey, or any of the Pokémon games are getting kids more into sports and therefore we should encourage children to play these video games because these games are going to get kids playing more sports (though Pokémon Go did at the very least get tons of kids and adults to leave their houses, but that’s a topic for another time).

What this study does highlight, however, is that statements like “sports video games have purely negative impacts on the lives of those who play them” simply is not true. Sports video games do have positive impacts on the world. Even after reading this through, one may still be asking: Why does saying that sports video games have positive impacts on the lives of youth matter?

Well, it matters because as Adachi and Willoughby stated in their study, given their findings, rather than looking at sports video games as barriers to exercise, these games may be an effective way to get young people exercising and involved in sports. Thus, for those invested in public health policy efforts to get children playing more sports, or at the very least exercising more often, they may want to invest in an area that they have so often demonized: video games.

Hopefully after reading this article you have a new outlook on video games, specifically sports video games. This fascinating research truly does highlight that sports video games are anything but a “Game Over” for society.


Adachi, Paul J. C., and Teena Willoughby. 2016. “Does Playing Sports Video Games Predict Increased Involvement in Real-Life Sports Over Several Years Among Older Adolescents and Emerging Adults?” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 45(2): 391-401.