Critique: Do Older Adults Hate Video Games until they Play them?

As part of my learning experience in my Games and Learning graduate course at CU Denver, I’ll critique literature tied to the theme of game-based learning. These critiques will summarize features like research design, learning theory, methods, findings, and implications for the study and application of games and learning.

Below is my latest critique

on the recent Proof-of-Concept Study (2016) by Ferguson et al, who tested the hypothesis:

“Older adults will express fewer negative attitudes about a specific violent video game they have just played, as compared to the abstract concept of violent video games in general.”

For whatever reason, there seems to be a negative stigma when it comes to video games and those who play them. From what I’ve gathered through my coursework, there are more studies about negative effects than benefits of playing video games. Getting to the heart of “why” intrigues me as it’s not something I’ve really considered until this course. Furthermore, I don’t particularly like video games so I thought that maybe I could learn a thing or two about my personal opinions and interests.

The authors believe this “abstract fear” is a generational thing and can be swayed if the person engages in play– even if the content of the game is violent. With 50+ participates (ages 52-93) the authors set a study to measure their hypothesis. Using survey techniques, Ferguson et al first evaluated the general attitudes of participants. Then, the participants engaged in either a violent game (Tomb Raider 2013) or non-violent game (FIFA 14) for 45 minutes.

A post-survey and comparison analysis

concluded that their hypothesis to be correct: video game exposure does in fact reduce anxiety around the effects of a specific game has on youth vs an overall concerns about video games. However, a big limitation in this study is the sample size and investigation around other variables such as comfort levels with technology or willingness to reconsider their opinions.

Additionally, I think learning outcomes and potentially game design should be considered and evaluated. I’m still not entirely sure I understand why attitudes changed after engaging in play. What aspect of the game(s) made these participants more comfortable with them? Was it confidence that built after the engagement? User interface? Extrinsic rewards of the game? Or simply, exposure? What’s that saying? “People fear what they don’t understand…”

Concluding thoughts:

As I think about my own thoughts and attitudes towards video games, I can’t help but continue to wonder why I feel the way I do about them. As someone who grew up playing video games in school and had a home console, what is it about video games that don’t jive? If these older people, with less exposure, in this study were able to turn around, why can’t I? Is it even comparable? I don’t know.

Either way, one thing remains clear to me: games for learning is not a black or white issue. Although there may be specific learning objectives for every video game out there, I think what we learn from them is unique for everyone. With so many variables to consider, how can we really measure the impact games have on learning, therefore, shifting society’s opinions about new media?



Ferguson, C. J., Nielsen, R. K., & Maguire, R. (2016). Do Older Adults Hate Video Games until they Play them? A Proof-of-Concept Study. Current Psychology. doi:10.1007/s12144-016-9480-9





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