We examined how risk level of video games, measured by maturity and violence level, was associated with behavioral health, social impacts, and online social interactions. School-based surveys in two different cohorts assessed self-reported gaming behaviors, health, and social media use. For Study 1, our 700 participants were 52% female and 48% White (mean age 12.7). Middle school students who played the high-risk games reported higher depressive symptoms and problematic internet behaviors, less sleep, more time spent playing games, and higher frequency of checking social media than non-gaming students. Those who played high-risk games were less likely to play alone and to play with strangers than those who played minimal-risk games. For Study 2, our 772 participants were 50% female and 57% White (mean age 12.6). Similar to Study 1, we found that those who played the high-risk games spent significantly more time playing games, were more interactive with other players, and had poorer sleep outcomes than non-high-risk gamers. Additionally, playing high-risk games had significantly different social impacts of gaming compared to less-risky gaming, including spending more money on games, spending less time on homework and with family or skipping meals due to gaming. Mature and violent content of video games and amount of online social interaction associated with gaming play a strong role in behavioral health and social impacts within families. These results can inform guidelines to intervene when problematic behaviors emerge.
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