I recently read Dr. Rachel Kowert‘s A Parent’s Guide to Video Games: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Video Games Impact Your Child’s Physical, Social, and Psychological Well-Being. This roughly 100-page guide is for parents who are interested in the research on video games. Specifically, the book discusses addiction, aggression and violent crime, cognitive development, physical and mental health, sexism and misogyny, social outcomes, and unintentional (positive) learning. Dr. Kowert also provides resources for additional reading and a FAQ section that addresses topics like stereotypes about gamers and content rating systems.
A Parent’s Guide to Video Games is accessible, with pleasing illustrations by Jim Trippier and pop-outs illuminating important takeaways. The chapters stand on their own. A parent interested in research on video games and cognitive development, for example, need not have read any previous chapters. I couldn’t help but notice how even-handed the writing was: Dr. Kowert neither proclaimed video games as the savior of the human race, nor did she lambaste them as the Worst Thing Ever. For example, in the chapter on video game addiction, she points out that rates of true gaming addiction are low, around 0.2% of game players. She then lists and describes signs associated with problematic gaming. Finally, she provides a take-home message in each chapter to help synthesize the information provided and gives suggestions for parents who are concerned with their children’s gaming habits.
My favorite chapter is the one on sexism and misogyny. This topic has come up a lot over the past few years, with various hot takes on whether gaming is a cesspool of sexist jerks. Importantly, Dr. Kowert defines sexism and misogyny near the beginning of the chapter to center the discussion. She even-handedly discusses findings on whether video games cultivate sexism and the experiences of many people in online gaming communities. As someone who studies online communities, I wish there had been some comparison of the culture of online gaming communities versus other online communities, as I think that’s important context. (Pew Research Center has some interesting statistics on online harassment in general.) Regardless, Dr. Kowert’s advice to parents was spot-on: encourage children to report discriminatory behavior.
One topic missing from A Parent’s Guide to Video Games is the potential effects of video games on empathy development, possibly because it has only recently garnered more sustained public attention. Parents might be interested in how video games may influence empathy development, for better or worse. There is a growing body of research on virtual reality and its potential effects on empathy development in a variety of contexts and prosocial behaviors more generally. I am interested in Dr. Kowert’s thoughts on the quality of the research in this area and what uses it may have for parents, but it may be too early to draw any conclusions.
I am a researcher, not a parent. That said, I think this is a good resource for parents who want to learn about video games. The book is clearly not intended to scare you into never letting your children play video games, but it also wasn’t written to disavow the idea that video games can have an impact on you, for better or worse. Dr. Kowert addresses stereotypes about gamers and expertly summarizes gaming research to provide a holistic and–in my opinion, accurate–picture of what we know so far. She also presents easy to follow, sensical advice for parents. Even if you aren’t a parent and are just interested in a quick primer on video game research, definitely give this a read.
Disclosure: I was not asked to write this review. I just like reading books about video games and thought this one was interesting enough to write about.