Super Mario Brothers and Sisters

“Families that play together, stay together”

We might laugh at such a claim and not put much faith in it’s accuracy, but a study published this year has found evidence to support this saying in the case of siblings and joint video game play.

Coyne and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study involving siblings between the ages of 13 and 18; measuring sibling relationship quality, video game play, both alone and with a sibling, and video game content (Coyne, Jensen, Smith, & Erickson, 2016). This represents the first study that has examined the effect of co-playing on the quality of sibling relationships.

The study, with a total of 508 adolescents, and an average of 16.31 years, examined the association between the video game type (violent / non-violent), and the sibling relationship quality (level of affection / conflict). The results were surprising.

Firstly, the study showed that co-playing video games with a sibling resulted in higher levels of sibling affection for both boys and girls when compared with siblings that played alone. Secondly, for boys only (whether they were playing with a brother or a sister), co-playing video games also resulted in higher levels of conflict when compared with boys who play alone. Interestingly, and in contrast to the second point, the study also showed that brothers co-playing violent / high combat context video games was associated with lower levels of conflict.

The most common games reported in the study were Call of Duty, Halo, and Mario Kart for boys, and Mario Kart, Super Mario Brothers, and Super Smash Brothers for girls.

While violence in video games has been a widely researched area, the study authors note, “understanding content effects is not enough when attempting to gain a larger picture of video game effects. The context of playing is important as well.” And this means the social context in which we play – whether it be online with friends, or in the case of this study, at home with siblings.

These results indicate that co-playing video games, even violent video games in the case of the brother result above, represents a unique bonding opportunity, which is ultimately beneficial for the sibling relationship, despite the content. It is the context that is the key – playing together. Working co-operatively together, siblings have the opportunity to work towards goals within game worlds, enhancing cooperation, problem solving, and ultimately heightening the quality of their relationship through shared experience.

Coyne, S. M., Jensen, A. C., Smith, N. J., & Erickson, D. H. (2016). Super mario brothers and sisters: Associations between coplaying video games and sibling conflict and affection. Journal of Adolescence, 47, 48-59. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2015.12.001

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