There is absolutely no doubt that video games are extremely popular among teens and young adults. That popularity has exploded over the last several years, primarily thanks to the increasingly social nature of games like Fortnite and Minecraft, and the advancement of entertainment platforms that allow video game players to stream their gameplay to millions of fans.
Let's face it...these are not the video games of the past. They are social communities that are shaping modern relationships and providing positive outcomes for our youth.
A recent Pew Research Center study showed that more than 95 percent of high school age boys and nearly 85 percent of high school age girls play video games. The study also showed that teenagers believe they are making friends through playing video games, staying connected with their peers and strengthening relationships with their siblings. And it makes sense, since video gaming today, especially through competitive esports, has found a way to combine streaming and social networking in a way the has revolutionized the way new generations consume their entertainment.
So what does this mean for high schools across the country?
Done appropriately, and with the proper oversight and regulations in place, implementing esports programs at the high school level can leverage the popularity and social nature of modern video games into increased engagement in school activities.
With so many kids playing video games, it is safe to say that some of those students are involved in other school activities, clubs or sports. But many are not. Offering esports programs as an extracurricular activity is a way schools can boost engagement, particularly among students who aren’t otherwise involved. This is important because research has long shown that students who are more involved and engaged often have higher successful outcomes, such as higher graduation rates, more class participation and greater social interaction with peers.
The correlation is not just academic success, but social success as well. According to the National Federation of High School Associations, students who participate in school activities are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as underage drinking or drug-use, as well as a reduced risk of suicidal tendencies.
Also, we have heard from several Pennsylvania schools with high school esports programs that their students are playing less at home. Instead, students who are part of official school programs are focusing more on homework and studying, because grades and school attendance impact their "eligibility" to play competitively for their school. And providing an official esports program as a high school activity provides a monitored and balanced space for video game play, and can teach positive, effective and appropriate online behaviors that limit cyberbullying, inappropriate comments and toxicity that is a part of the unregulated online video gaming community.
We are not naive that there are negative impacts of video gaming as well. But creating official scholastic programs that integrate strong regulations and oversight will help mitigate the negative outcomes while providing tremendous benefits to many students.
Regulation is critical, however, to give school boards, high school administrators and the public confidence that the students’ interests are at the forefront of any event or competition. Focusing on the students’ well being and providing standards for competitions will allow any esports program to flourish and provide meaningful benefits to all involved.