Gaming the SySTEM: The Relationship Between Video Games and the Digital and STEM Divides

Christopher Ball, Kuo-Ting Huang, Shelia Cotten and R.V. Rikard


STEM careers are increasingly vital for our ability to remain competitive and innovative in the 21st century. The growing need for STEM workers has resulted in substantial increases in wages/benefits for those pursuing jobs in these fields. Despite the growing demand and lucrative nature of STEM fields, minorities have remained traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. The STEM divide has been connected with another detrimental divide, the digital divide. Video games have been used for decades to teach complex concepts, critical thinking capabilities, and increase topical self-efficacy. In this study we use Social Cognitive Theory to frame normal video gameplay as an “enactive experience” which results in greater technology self-efficacy. More specifically, we explore how normal video game experience is connected to computer self-efficacy and emotional costs, which have in turn been connected to the digital and STEM divides. Data were gathered during a large-scale computing intervention which sought to increase students’ interest in STEM fields. The teacher based computing intervention taught teachers to integrate computing into their classrooms, including the use of computer games. The intervention was located in a large urban elementary school district in the southeastern United States. Our results indicate that video game experience does have an effect on STEM attitudes via the mediating role of computer self-efficacy and emotional costs. Video gameplay, regardless of topical content, can be beneficial for young digitally divided populations as it provides them with positive enactive experiences with technology. Future interventions should consider the use of video games to help simultaneously reduce both the digital and STEM divides.