Note: this was published elsewhere last year.
If you’re a parent who wants to encourage their daughter to pursue science, engineering, or math, then it might do well for you to let your child loose on Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Fortnite, Fallout 76, The Sims, Spiderman, or even something properly ‘indie’ like Kentucky Route Zero. Why? Research has been done that suggests a strong correlation between girls who are heavy gamers and the likelihood with which those girls will go on to pursue STEM degrees.
Anesa Hosein at the University of Surrey has a paper in “Computers in Human Behavior” that looked at survey results for 481 females and 333 males and concluded that girls between the ages of 13–14 who played more than nine hours of video games a week were more likely to pursue a STEM degree. This pattern did not hold true for young boys.
The data from which Hosein is basing her analysis comes from two different data sets: the first is something called a ‘Net Generation’ dataset. The other is called LSYPE — as in, a ‘Longitudinal Study Of Young People in England,’ the latter of which came in 7 different waves between the ages of 13/14 and 19/20. And though — as Hosein herself notes — “there is an oversampling of adolescents entering higher education … it is still able to provide insights into university access.”
What else can be learned from the data? The more a girl plays a game, the more likely it will be seen as a positive factor in their choosing to pursue a STEM degree. Those who are heavy gamers and pursue a STEM degree are also the least likely to give up their gaming habit, too. Female gamers were more likely to pursue a STEM degree when compared to boys regardless of which type of game they were — action, MMORPG, puzzle, platform: all carry the same impact for eventual STEMers.
The paper remains concerned about stereotyping — especially amongst evidence that suggests that young girls are more ready to drop extraneous activities related to their studies than boys — and so recommends that “a balanced but cautious approach needs to be taken that inspires those girls who are already gamers without alienating those who are not.”
Further research suggests examining gaming intensity in-between ages 15/16 and 19/20, as well as why someone might play games less — are they studying for exams? — and where and why they might pick gaming up again. There is also an open question in the research about what the exact link is between problem-solving skills encouraged and developed by video games and the latter application of those problem-solving skills in the context of STEM degree.
As that research is further explored, perhaps you should blow some dust out of the cartridge, make sure you have enough quarters, check to make sure you have enough batteries in your X-BOX controller, and maybe — if you have a daughter — ask her if she wants to play.