It is a Saturday afternoon and the house is quiet except for the flicker of electronic screens as two children are immersed in playing separate video games. If left undisturbed, the children may still be playing several hours later.
Many parents are concerned about their children playing video games for so long and the potential harm that could result. While setting limits on the amount of time a child can spend playing video games is warranted, an outright ban is not needed. Video games actually have several benefits that can help a child’s thinking.
Educators see the benefit of video games and more of them are using video games in the classroom. They are doing this because video games can provide immediate and concrete feedback on the student’s progress towards mastering a skill. There is nothing like dying in a game or hearing an ugly buzzer for a student to know he has failed. On the other hand, moving up levels and gaining token and rewards lets the student know he has successfully mastered a skill.
These same games can teach children how to deal with failure. In most games, children are allowed to immediately try again when they fail. Children may fail repeatedly but most eventually succeed. This sends an important message to children that effort matters when they are confronted with initial failure and that if they continue trying, they will succeed. This message can translate into children putting more effort into learning difficult subject material at school even when they don’t succeed right away.
Another benefit of playing video games is that children and adolescents enhance their creativity. This can easily be seen when a child is playing Minecraft and wants to share her latest building creation. Most video games allow players to modify the game environment and explore the game beyond the main mission thus encouraging exploration and experimentation.
In addition to the general benefits of video games, there are several types of video games that can have specific benefits on thinking. One popular type of video game is first person action games such as Halo and Call of Duty. Children and adolescent who play first person action games have better spatial skills and are better able to rotate objects in their mind. These skills can go beyond the video game and help improve student’s academic achievement in science and math.
The action video games also force players to carefully use their attention to focus on various parts of the game in order to be successful. This use of attention in the game allows children and adolescents to more efficiently solve problems in the real world as they have learned how to focus their attention and ignore distracting information.
Another type of video game with specific benefits is role playing games like World of Warcraft. Adolescents who play role playing games improved their ability to solve problems and tended to have higher academic grades.
All of these benefits should lessen parents’ concerns about their children and adolescents playing video games. Not only are video games fun, but it also is helping out their thinking!
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on February 23, 2014.