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7 April 2016

For Better or Worse? Sisters and Brothers Playing Video Games

Keywords: games, gaming, prosocial, teens, North America, family communication, survey, video game console, young adults,

Playing video games with a brother or sister relates to both affection and conflict in the sibling relationship, a study in Journal of Adolescence shows. Whether gaming with siblings is positively or negatively linked to the quality of their bond depends on the sex of the sibling (brother or sister) and the content of the game (violent or nonviolent). 

Take aways

  • Teens who more often play video games together with a sibling experience more affection in the sibling relationship; however, boys also experience more conflict. 
  • Interestingly, brothers who frequently play violent games together with a sibling experience less sibling conflict. 
  • Playing prosocial video games with siblings is not associated with feelings of affect or conflict. 
  • For parents and family workers it is important to consider gaming as a context in the development of the sibling bond. Special attention should be paid to the sex of the siblings and the nature of the game.

Study information

  • The question?

    How does coplaying video games among siblings relate to the level of affection and conflict in their relationship?

  • Who?

    508 13- to 18-year-olds having a sibling and coming from moderately high SES families (mean age: 16.3 years; 65% of the teens were European American, 20% multi-ethnic, 11% African American, <1% Asian American and <1% Hispanic)

  • Where?

    United States of America

  • How?

    This study used data from the Flourishing Families Project, which investigates the lives of families living in a large city in the Northwest and a moderate size city in the Mountain West of the USA. The teens who participated in this project were asked to fill out a questionnaire including questions about the quality of their relationship with one sibling, specifically about the degree of affection (e.g., how often they share toys and other things with each other) and conflict (e.g., how often they tease each other or call each other names). Moreover, the teens reported how much time they spent playing video games alone and with a sibling. They also listed the three favorite games to play with their sibling. Games that were mentioned by at least 1% of the participating teens (resulting in a total of 120 different games) were rated on their levels of aggression and prosocial content. 

Facts and findings

  • 57% of boys and 51% of girls reported to play video games with their sibling. Boys indicated to do this more often than girls. 
  • Teens more frequently played video games with a same-sex sibling than with a sibling of the other sex.
  • Teens who more often played video games together with one of their siblings experienced more affection in their sibling relationships. 
  • More frequent coplaying was also linked to higher sibling conflict, but only for boys (see Figure 1). According to the researchers, a possible explanation might be that the games brothers play together are often competitive in nature, which promotes rivalry and conflict. 
  • Boys who more often played violent video games on their own experienced less conflict in their sibling relationship (see Figure 2).
  • Brothers who more often played violent video games together, experienced less conflict in their sibling relationships (see Figure 3). The authors propose that this might be because playing such games fosters the bond of brothers via shared interest or cooperation.
  • Playing prosocial video games together with a sibling was not related to affect and conflict in sibling relationships. According to the researchers, this might be because hardly any games mentioned by the participants were purely prosocial.
  • Teens who in general more frequently played video games (alone or with others), experienced less affection and less conflict in their sibling relationships. 
  • Remarkable fact: Teens who played more video games also played more violent games. Therefore, it was unexpected that more gaming was associated with lower sibling conflict. To explain this finding, the researchers suggest that teens who spend more time playing games on their own, spend less time with their siblings in general, leaving less time together in which conflict can arise.
  • Fun fact: Both boys and girls named Mario Kart as one of their favorite coplaying games. Super Mario Brothers and Super Smash Brothers were also popular among girls, whereas boys preferred to play Call of Duty and Halo.
  • Critical note: No conclusions can be made about cause (e.g., siblings coplaying video games) and effect (e.g., affection and conflict in the sibling relationship). This study only shows that–depending on the sex of the sibling and game content–playing video games together with siblings is related to both positive and negative aspects of the sibling bond.