When something goes wrong with today’s youth, the media is quick to loose the dogs on video games. The attacks generally portray video games as noisy, violent time-wasters that are the equivalent of a potato chip feast for the brain.
Truthfully, playing games can be very beneficial for children. When combined with exercise, sensible time limits, and adhesion to the ESRB’s content ratings, video games are a relatively inexpensive and fun pastime that can also double as an attention-grabbing teacher.
A few ways in which playing video games can benefit kids and parents alike:
Games can teach children new skills without having to “trick” them — A bare ten seconds after kids latched onto video games for the very first time, developers began thinking of ways to sneak a little learning into games–not unlike the way many of us medicate a dog by shoving a pill into a piece of cheese. Some of these attempts were successful: Oregon Trail, a history “edutainment” game that was first published on computers by MECC in 1971, was hugely successful, taught kids the meaning of the word “dysentery,” and has been remade and re-published over and over on multiple game platforms, including Facebook.
Though video gaming’s subsequent attempts to teach and entertain at the same time had mixed results, Oregon Trail proved that electronic games made it possible to learn a manner of skills while genuinely having fun. That goes for games that cover the “Three R’s,” as well as games that teach skills. For instance, Rock Band 3‘s “Pro Mode” teaches its audience how to play a real guitar. And Ubisoft’s Language Coach series for the Nintendo DS builds up players’ foreign vocabulary via games and fun exercises.
Games can be used for exercise — Gaming is generally a sedentary activity, and with childhood obesity rates on the rise, video games are walloped with a lot of blame for kids’ poor exercise habits.
Like any activity that doesn’t involve a lot of running around, gaming can pack pounds on a kid if the pastime isn’t balanced out with lots of fresh air and exercise. However, gaming has become impressively diverse over the past decade, and can actually help kids shake off fat. The Wii has become especially popular with indoor exercise enthusiasts thanks to get-up-and-go games like Wii Fit and Ubisoft’s Just Dance series. Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral also has a number of interactive dancing and exercise games. Finally, even schools recognize the benefits of game-related exercise: physical education programs across the United States have adapted dancing games like Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution into their curriculum.
Games teach problem solving — Many games challenge players to meet a certain goal, and reaching that goal is rarely as simple as making the little dude on screen walk a straight line from the left to the right. Almost every game promotes some level of problem solving, whether it’s related to taking down a powerful enemy with a comparatively small weapon, or working out the most efficient way to slingshot a cartoon bird into a stack of wood and concrete.
James Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, believes that the extensive problem solving that video games call for can make them as beneficial for the mind as exercise is for the body. Discover Magazine’s Steven Johnson concurred in a 2005 article about Gee’s beliefs:
“[Scholars] are now beginning to recognize the cognitive benefits of playing video games: pattern recognition, system thinking, even patience. Lurking in this research is the idea that gaming can exercise the mind the way physical activity exercises the body: It may be addictive because it’s challenging.”
Games get kids interested in tech and programming — The world is fast becoming digitized, and the more quickly kids learn how to adapt to technology, the better their prospects in school and (eventually) in the workforce. Even learning how to simply operate a game console is one way for a child to get a head-start on computers and smartphones. Many of the ladies and gentlemen who program games today got their start making their own games for the Commodore 64, Spectrum ZX, and Apple ][.
Games encourage reading and foster storytelling skills — One of gaming’s most under-sung benefits is the potential for helping kids sharpen their reading skills. Though most modern games boast voice acting, said performances are almost always supplemented by pages of text. This is especially true for games in the role-playing genres, which are often backed by rich and dramatic stories that are appealing for kids who love stories of good versus evil. Kids who play video games can be inspired to write their own stories when they’re not playing games. They can even dive into the original myths and legends that some role-playing games are based on. Either way, video games inspire creative acts, and are a fun and effective ways for children to build up their vocabulary and reading skills.