Play a sport in a video game and it may motivate you to play it in real life

Play a sport in a video game and it may motivate you to play it in real life

After many years of video game research being centred around the possible negative consequences of playing video games, recent times has seen a change with more positive affects from engaging with video games are discovered. A study from 2015 took a closer look at possible connections between playing sports video games, and engaging in real life sports.


Paul Adachi and Teena Willoughby published the article “Does Playing Sports Video Games Predict Increased Involvement in Real-Life Sports Over Several Years Among Older Adolescents and Emerging Adults?”, where they hypothesise that playing sports games will yield a higher engagement with real life sports in the long term.

Not only do they investigate this possible link, but they also connect it to other video games studies on self-determination theory – the idea being that playing sports video games will increase the player’s self-esteem. The higher self-esteem can in turn lead to more engagement in real life sports.

The study was of a fairly large size, including 1132 under-graduate students ages 17-25, and running over a total of 4 years. A run down of their results shows that there is indeed correlations between the video games and sports:

“We provided initial evidence of a 3-year association between sports video game play and involvement in real-life sports among older adolescents and emerging adults. Specifically, sports video game play in year 2 predicted steeper increases in participants’ involvement in real-life sports over the three years “

Now, at first when I read such statements in the abstract my initial thought went to earlier studies of video games, for example those on violence, failing to show whether video games make its players more violent, or whether its a case violent people being more drawn to violent video games. Same questions could be asked in relation to sports games, but this was taken into account in their model, dealing with such covariants. In addition Adachi and Willoughby  made use of a control group of people who played violent games instead of sports games. In the case of the violent games the results showed no connection between playing these games and engagement in real life sports over the following years. The final thing they found in their data was a connection between playing sports video games and increased self-esteem, and that “self-esteem was a mechanism through which sports video game play predicted involvement in real-life sports over time”.

Given the fact that the percentage of young people who play video games is on the rise, and that this also includes the consumption of sports video games, the connection found in this study is significant. I would argue that it is always a benefit for society to have people participate in sports, as it may result in better welfare for the individual both physically and mentally. And so:

“the notion that sports video game play may facilitate older adolescents’ and emerging adults’ motivation to engage in real-life sports highlights the importance of providing older adolescents and emerging adults with readily accessible opportunities to get involved in real-life sports, such as through intramural sports leagues in the university and community settings”

The way I see it, this is a welcome addition to the steadily growing body of research going into the affects of video games on its players, especially because its connecting the engagement with video games with positive and pro-social behaviour in real life. Very often fears of opposite behaviour are more prevalent. Although, in regards to this it should be mentioned that other studies have shown that if players engage in e.g. role-playing games, then it does not lead to more pro-social behaviour in real life – in other words a pattern is emerging, showing that how video games affect players very much depends on the type of video game. This does once again point back to idea that certain types of people are attracted to certain types of games, which creates a type of “positive” reinforcement of behaviour.

It will be interesting to see what further patterns future video game research will reveal, especially now that studies with larger focus on the longevity of effects are beginning to emerge. Video games will neither be wholly positive or negative in effect, as many factors are involved, there among one I believe to be prominent: consumption. In any case I found this an interesting addition to the debate of how video games affect us, and I hope you did too.


Adachi, Paul; Willoughby, Teena. “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.

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