A new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics finds that playing video games for up to an hour a day can be beneficial for 10-to-15-year-olds.
"Electronic gaming and psychosocial adjustment," believed to be the largest study of its kind, was carried out by Oxford University and examined the positive and negative effects of video gaming on a representative sample of 5,000 UK children and teenagers.
It found that a little gaming goes a long way to helping children feel well adjusted, even when compared to kids who don't partake of console games at all.
Children who play console or computer games for up to an hour a day were the most likely to express satisfaction with their lives, had the highest levels of sociability, and appeared to have fewer friendship, emotional or hyperactivity issues than other subjects in the study.
However, there appears to be a tipping point. When children play for three hours or more a day, they are less well adjusted.
The study's author, Dr. Andrew Przybylski, speculates that this could be related to how much of a child's free time is taken up by video gaming. If a child has three-to-four hours' free time a day and the majority of it is taken up by gaming, then he or she is missing out on other valuable, enriching activities.
However, whether good or bad, the research suggests that the impact of video games on children is very small when compared with what it describes as the more "enduring factors" of family life and material deprivation.
"'These results support recent laboratory-based experiments that have identified the downsides to playing electronic games. However, high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children's behavioral problems in the real world," Dr. Przybylski said. "Likewise, the small, positive effects we observed for low levels of play on electronic games do not support the idea that video games on their own can help children develop in an increasingly digital world."
More research into understanding what types of games have the biggest positive benefit on children and how other external factors impact childhood and adolescent development will now need to be done, he said.