Video games are frowned upon by parents as time-wasters, and worse, some education experts think that these games corrupt the brain. Violent video games are easily blamed by the media and some experts as the reason why some young people become violent or commit extreme anti-social behavior. But many scientists and psychologists find that video games can actually have many benefits – the main one is making kids smart. Video games may actually teach kids high-level thinking skills that they will need in the future.
“Video games change your brain,” according to University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green. Playing video games change the brain’s physical structure the same way as do learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating using a map. Much like exercise can build muscle, the powerful combination of concentration and rewarding surges of neurotransmitters like dopamine strengthen neural circuits that can build the brain.
Below are the good and bad effects of video games, according to researchers and child experts:
Positive Effects of Video Games
When your child plays video games, it gives his brain a real workout. In many video games, the skills required to win involve abstract and high level thinking. These skills are not even taught at school. Some of the mental skills enhanced by video games include:
o Following instructions
o Problem solving and logic – When kids play games such as The Incredible Machine, Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, they train their brain to come up with creative ways to solve puzzles and other problems in short bursts
o Hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills. In shooting games, the character may be running and shooting at the same time. This requires the real-world player to keep track of the position of the character, where he/she is heading, their speed, where the gun is aiming, if the gunfire is hitting the enemy, and so on. Also, a reason given by experts as to why fighter pilots of today are more skillful is that this generation’s pilots are being weaned on video games.
o Planning, resource management and logistics. The player learns to manage resources that are limited, and decide the best use of resources, the same way as in real life. This skill is honed in strategy games such as SimCity, Age of Empires, and Railroad Tycoon.
o Multitasking, simultaneous tracking of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives. In strategy games, for instance, while developing a city, an unexpected surprise like an enemy might emerge. This forces the player to be flexible and quickly change tactics.
o Quick thinking, making fast analysis and decisions. Sometimes the player does this almost every second of the game giving the brain a real workout. Video games can be used to train soldiers and surgeons, according to the study. Importantly, decisions made by action-packed video game players are no less accurate.
o Accuracy – Action games, according to a study by the University of Rochester, train the brains of players to make faster decisions without losing accuracy. In today’s world, it is important to move quickly without sacrificing accuracy.
o Strategy and anticipation – Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, calls this “telescoping.” Gamers must deal with immediate problems while keeping their long-term goals on their horizon.
o Situational awareness – – Defense News reported that the Army include video games to train soldiers improve their situational awareness in combat. Many strategy games also require players to become mindful of sudden situational changes in the game and adapt accordingly.
o Developing reading and math skills – Young gamers force themselves to read to get instructions, follow storylines of games, and get information from the game texts. Also, using math skills is important to win in many games that involves quantitative analysis like managing resources.
o Perseverance – In higher levels of a game, players usually fail the first time around, but they keep on trying until they succeed and move on to the next level.
o Pattern recognition – Games have internal logic in them, and players figure it out by recognizing patterns.
o Estimating skills
o Inductive reasoning and hypothesis testing – James Paul Gee, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that playing a video game is similar to working through a science problem. Like students in a laboratory, gamers must come up with a hypothesis.
o Mapping – Gamers use in-game maps or build maps on their heads to navigate around virtual worlds.
o Memory – Playing first person shooter games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield series enables players to effectively judge what information should be stored in their working memory and what can be discarded considering the task at hand, according to a study published in the Psychological Research.
o Concentration – A study conducted by the Appalachia Educational Laboratory reveal that children with attention-deficit disorder who played Dance Dance Revolution improve their reading scores by helping them concentrate.
o Improved ability to rapidly and accurately recognize visual information – A study from Beth Israel Medical Center NY, found a direct link between skill at video gaming and skill at keyhole, or laparoscopic, surgery.
o Reasoned judgments
o Taking risks – Winning in any game involves a player’s courage to take risks. Most games do not reward players who play safely.
o How to respond to challenges
o How to respond to frustrations
o How to explore and rethink goals
o Teamwork and cooperation when played with others – Many multiplayer games such as Team Fortress 2 involve cooperation with other online players in order to win. These games encourage players to make the most of their individual skills to contribute to the team.
o Management – Management simulation games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon and Zoo tycoon teach players to make management decisions and manage the effective use of finite resources.
o Simulation, real world skills. The most well known simulations are flight simulators, which attempt to mimic the reality of flying a plane. All of the controls, including airspeed, wing angles, altimeter, and so on, are displayed for the player, as well as a visual representation of the world, and are updated in real time.
- Video games introduce your kid to computer technology and the online world.
- Video games allow you and your kid to play together and can be a good bonding activity.
- Video games make learning fun.
- Video games can make your kid creative.
- Video games can improve your kid’s decision making speed.
- Video games increase your kid’s self-confidence and self-esteem as he masters games.
- Games that involve multiple players encourage your child to work cooperatively to achieve his goals.
- Video games that require your kid to be active, such as Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo Wii Boxing give your kid a good workout.
- Video games make players’ visions become more sensitive to slightly different shades of color, according to a University of Rochester study.
- Video games help children with dyslexia read faster and with better accuracy, according to a study by the journal Current Biology.
- Kids are not necessarily drawn to video games because of their violence.
- Violent video games may act as a release of pent-up aggression and frustration of your kid.
- Playing video games is safer than having your teens do drugs, alcohol and street racing in the real world.
Negative Effects of Video Games
- Most of the bad effects of video games are blamed on the violence they contain. Children who play more violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and decreased prosocial helping, according to a scientific study (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). The effect of video game violence in kids is worsened by the games’ interactive nature. In many games, kids are rewarded for being more violent. The act of violence is done repeatedly. The child is in control of the violence and experiences the violence in his own eyes (killings, kicking, stabbing and shooting). This active participation, repetition and reward are effective tools for learning behavior. Indeed, many studies seem to indicate that violent video games may be related to aggressive behavior (such as Anderson & Dill, 2000; Gentile, Lynch & Walsh, 2004). However, the evidence is not consistent and this issue is far from settled. Many experts including Henry Jenkins of Massachusetts Institute of Technology have noted that there is a decreased rate of juvenile crime whch coincides with the popularity of games such as Death Race, Mortal Kombat, Doom and Grand Theft auto. He concludes that teenage players are able to leave the emotional effects of the game behind when the game is over. Indeed there are cases of teenagers who commit violent crimes who also spend great amount of time playing video games such as those involved in the Columbine and Newport cases. It appears that there will always be violent people, and it just so happen that many of them also enjoy playing violent video games.
- Too much video game playing makes your kid socially isolated. Also, he may spend less time in other activities such as doing homework, reading, sports, and interacting with the family and friends.
- Some video games teach kids the wrong values. Violent behavior, vengeance and aggression are rewarded. Negotiating and other nonviolent solutions are often not options. Women are often portrayed as weaker characters that are helpless or sexually provocative.
- Games can confuse reality and fantasy.
- Academic achievement may be negatively related to over-all time spent playing video games. Studies have shown that the more time a kid spends playing video games, the poorer is his performance in school. (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Gentile, Lynch & Walsh, 2004). A study by Argosy University’s Minnesota School on Professional Psychology found that video game addicts argue a lot with their teachers, fight a lot with their friends, and score lower grades than others who play video games less often. Other studies show that many game players routinely skip their homework to play games, and many students admitted that their video game habits are often responsible for poor school grades.
- Although some studies suggest that playing video games enhances a child’s concentration, other studies, such as a 2012 paper published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, have found that games can hurt and help children’s attention issues — improving the ability to concentrate in short bursts but damaging long-term concentration.
- Video games may also have bad effects on some children’s health, including obesity, video-induced seizures. and postural, muscular and skeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, nerve compression, carpal tunnel syndrome.
- When playing online, your kid can pick up bad language and behavior from other people, and may make your kid vulnerable to online dangers.
- A study by the Minneapolis-based National Institute for Media and the Family suggests that video games can be addictive for kids, and that the kids’ addiction to video games increases their depression and anxiety levels. Addicted kids also exhibit social phobias. Not surprisingly, kids addicted to video games see their school performance suffer.
- Kids spending too much time playing video games may exhibit impulsive behavior and have attention problems. This is according to a new study published in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Psychology and Popular Media Culture. For the study, attention problems were defined as difficulty engaging in or sustaining behavior to reach a goal.
Recommendation for Video Games
- Monitor video game play the same way you need to monitor television and other media.
- Be a loving, attentive parent who disciplines your child well. An aggressive child is more a product of dysfunctional parenting than anything else, including violent games and TV. According to Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Robert Butterworth, PhD, dysfunctional parenting, children with little guilt, and accessibility to firearms with little parental supervision can create violent children. “Most children who commit violent crime show an early combination of personality and family factors that include having trouble getting along with playmates in preschool,” Butterworth says. “By second or third grade they’re doing poorly in school, and have few friends. By the age of 10 they’re picking fights and getting labeled by their peers as social outcasts.” What’s more “they typically come from families where parents are poor at disciplining because they are indifferent, neglectful, too coercive or they use harsh physical punishment with little love.”
- Although playing video games can be a learning experience, give your kid a variety of entertaining things to learn from, so your kid will not be addicted to just one thing. Be sure to make him read books, play sports, interact with other kids, and watch good TV. Everything should be taken in moderation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not spend more than one to two hours per day in front of all electronic screens, including TV, DVDs, videos, video games (handheld, console, or computer), and computers (for non-academic use). This means seven to fourteen hours per week total.
- Limit the amount of time they could play and also used the video game ratings to limit the content of the games have children who do better in school and also get into fewer fights.
- Monitor the effect of video games on your child. Observe his behavior. If it appears that he is becoming more aggressive with his siblings or friends during the period that he is playing violent games, stop him from playing the games. If he becomes interested in history after playing historical games, then the game is beneficial to him.
- Limit your child’s video game playing when you see him spending less time doing homework and that he is getting lower grades.
- Limit your child’s video game playing when you observe him having a sedentary lifestyle, and not engaging in sports and exercise.
- Limit your child’s video game playing if he displays sign of addiction and experience “video game withdrawal”.
- Instead of letting your child indulge in watch TV, let him play a good video game instead on the console or the tablet. For young children, playing video games is better thanwatching TV, according to Queensland University of Technology Games Research and Interaction Design Lab. Some games encourage kids to be moderately active, and some also exercise kids’ cognitive skills. According to Dr. Penny Sweetser, such games “can improve academic performance, social skills and self esteem”. He recommends, though, to let your kid play with parental interaction and supervision.
What to look for in choosing a video game
- Decide what is acceptable in your home and if you think violent games are not acceptable, explain to your kid the reason why it might be bad for him.
- Check the Ratings of the game before you buy it or allow your kid to play it. Check its rating which is indicated in the box. Note the title and cover picture. If they have themes of sex and/or violence, then these themes are in the game. If possible, be familiar with the game or read its reviews in the internet. Sometimes, the “bad” part of the game is hidden in the higher levels. Do not neglect supervising your kid as a parent.
- Consider your child’s maturity level to determine which games are suitable for him. Chronological age is not necessarily a measure of maturity.
- Pick games that require the player to come up with strategies, and make decisions in a game environment that is more complex than punching, stealing, and killing.
- Look for games involving multiple players to encourage group play.
- According to Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Robert Butterworth, PhD , you should “evaluate the shows and games not just in terms of violence or obscenity, but in terms of the mental engagement that they require. Boys need to slay dragons and play games with action figures of cowboys and Indians,” he says. “They need to be in a fantasy where they are conquering heroes; suppressing this may have long-term effects that may not be good.”