The media and some experts quickly blame playing violent video games as the reason why some young people become violent or commit extreme anti-social behavior. However before anyone can validate this reasoning, much more research is needed. Bottom line, it comes down to ethics and what we teach our children is acceptable behavior.
Many researchers, scientists, and psychologists find that video games can have many benefits – the main one is making kids smart. Video games may 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 changes the brain’s physical structure the same way as learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating using a map.
Just as exercise can build muscle, the powerful combination of concentration and rewarding surges of neurotransmitters like dopamine strengthen neural circuits that can build the brain.
There are both good and bad effects of allowing kids to play video games according to researchers and child health experts.
Benefits of Video Games
When your child plays video games, it gives his or her brain a workout. In many video games, the skills required to win involves abstract and high-level thinking.
Some of the mental skills enhanced by video games include:
- Following instructions
- Problem solving and logic
When a child plays a game such as The Incredible Machine, Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, he trains his brain to come up with creative ways to solve puzzles and other problems in short bursts
- Hand-eye coordination, fine motor, and spatial skills.
Research suggests that we can learn iconic, spatial, and visual attention skills from video games. There are a few studies with adults showing that experience with video games is related to better surgical skills and military pilot skills. Today’s military pilot’s skills require strong hand-eye coordination, and video games help develop these skills. The ability to look at a screen while manipulating controls promotes excellent hand-eye coordination. The video game player must coordinate the brain’s interpretation and reaction with the movement in his hands and fingertips. This process requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination and visual-spatial ability to be successful.
- 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. Notably, The American Planning Association, the trade association of urban planners and Maxis, the game creator, have claimed that SimCity has inspired a lot of its players to take a career in urban planning and architecture.
- Multitasking, simultaneous tracking of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives. In strategy games, for instance, while developing a city, a surprise like an enemy might emerge. This forces the player to be flexible and quickly change tactics.
Cognitive researcher Daphne Bavalier views on how video games can help us learn, focus and right or wrong, multitask.
- Quick thinking, making fast analysis and decisions.
According to researchers at the University of Rochester, led by Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive scientist, games simulating stressful events such as those found in battle or action games could be a training tool for real-world situations. The study suggests that playing action video games primes the brain to make quick decisions. 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. According to Bavelier, “Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.”
Action games, according to a study by the University of Rochester, train the player’s brain to make faster decisions without losing accuracy. In today’s world, it is important to move quickly without sacrificing accuracy.
- 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.” The gamer must deal with immediate problems while keeping his long-term goals on his horizon.
- Situational awareness
Defense News reported that the Army uses video games to train soldiers to improve their situational awareness in combat. Many strategy games require the player to become mindful of sudden situational changes in the game and adapt accordingly.
- Developing reading and math skills
The young gamer reads 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 involve quantitative analysis like managing resources.
In higher levels of a game, the player usually fails the first time around, but he keeps on trying until he succeeds and moves on to the next step.
- Pattern recognition
Games have internal logic in them, and the player needs to use recognizing patterns to be proficient at the game.
- Estimating skills
Players must determine the territory to be covered and how to ration supplies.
- 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. Similar to a student in a laboratory, the gamer must come up with a hypothesis. For example, the gamer must constantly test a combination of weapons and powers to use to defeat an enemy. If anyone does not work, he changes hypothesis and tries the next one. Video games are goal-driven experiences, says Gee, which is fundamental to learning.
The gamer uses in-game maps or builds maps on his head to navigate around virtual worlds.
Playing first person shooter games similar to Call of Duty and Battlefield series enables the player to adequately judge what information should be stored in his working memory and what can be discarded considering the task at hand, according to a study published in the Psychological Research.
A study conducted by the Appalachia Educational Laboratory reveal that children with an attention-deficit disorder who played Dance Dance Revolution improve their reading scores by helping them concentrate.
- 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.
- Reasoned judgments
Players must internally reason their decisions before making a move, they must weigh the potential outcomes of steps to decide if the move will benefit their play or take them out of the game.
- Taking risks
Winning in any game involves a player’s courage to take risks. Most games do not reward players who play safely.
- How to respond to challenges
- How to respond to frustrations
- How to explore and rethink goals
- 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. According to a survey by Joan Ganz Cooney Center, teachers report that their students become better collaborators after using digital games in the classroom.
Management simulation games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon and Zoo tycoon teach the player to make management decisions and manage the effective use of finite resources. Other games such as Age of Empires and Civilization even simulate managing the course of a civilization.
- 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.
Parents need to recognize that we are now living in a high-tech, sophisticated world. Video games make your kid adapt and become comfortable with the concepts of technology.
Video games allow you and your child to play together and can be a good bonding activity. Some games are attractive to kids as well as adults, and they could be something that they share in common. When your child knows more than you, he can teach you how to play and this allows you to understand your child’s skills and talents.
Video games can make learning fun when used in moderation.
Kids like games because of the colors, the animation, what we call eye candy, as well as the interactivity and the challenge and the rewards of winning. One of the best ways to learn is when the learner is having fun at the same time. That’s why video games are natural teachers. Having fun gives your kid motivation to keep on practicing, which is the only way to effectively learn skills.
Video games can make your kid creative.
A study by the Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project found a relation between video game playing and greater creativity, regardless of gender, race or type of video game played. In contrast, use of cell phones, the Internet, and computers other than video games was unrelated to creativity, the study found.
Video games can improve your kid’s decision-making speed and ability. People who played action-based video and computer games made decisions 25% faster than others without sacrificing accuracy, according to a study from the University of Rochester.
Other studies suggest that most expert gamers can make choices and act on them up to six times a second—four times faster than most people, and can pay attention to more than six things at once without getting confused, compared to only four by the average person. Surprisingly, the violent action games that often worry parents most had the strongest beneficial effect on the brain, according to cognitive neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier, who studies the effect of action games at the Switzerland’s University of Geneva and the University of Rochester in New York.
Video games increase your kid’s self-confidence and self-esteem as they master games.
In many games, the levels of difficulty are adjustable. As a beginner, you begin at the easy level and by constant practicing and slowly building skills, they become confident in handling more difficult challenges. Since the cost of failure is lower, they do not fear to make mistakes or failure. They take more risks and explore more. Kids can transfer this attitude to real life.
Games that involve multiple players encourage your child to work cooperatively to achieve their goals. Kids learn to listen to the ideas of others, formulate plans with other kids, and distribute tasks based on skills. Some online games are even played internationally, and this can introduce your child to players of various nationalities and cultures. This fosters friendships among different people.
Video games that require your kid to be active, such as Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo Wii Dancing or Yoga give children a good workout.
When playing these intense games for 10 minutes, your kid spends energy equal to or exceeding that produced by spending the same amount of time on three miles an hour treadmill walk.
Video games make players’ visions become more sensitive to slightly different shades of color, according to a University of Rochester study. “When people play action games, they’re changing the brain’s pathway responsible for visual processing,” according to researcher Daphne Bavelier. The training may be helping the optical system to make better use of the information it receives.
Video games help children with dyslexia read faster and with better accuracy, according to a study in the journal Current Biology. In addition, Spatial and temporal attention also improved during action video game training. Focus improvement can directly translate into better reading abilities.
Kids are not necessarily drawn to video games because of their violence. The attraction lies in their being rewarded by excellent displays of explosions, fireworks, and yes, blood splattering. Also, violent games have the most emotional appeal for kids. But these factors are only secondary to what kids actually enjoy in these games – the opportunity to develop and master skills and have the freedom to make choices in the game universe.
Violent video games may act as a release of pent-up aggression and frustration of your kid. When your child vents his frustration and anger in his game, this diffuses his stress. Games can provide a positive aggression outlet the same way as football and other violent sports.
A study done by researchers at North Carolina State University, York University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology concluded that playing online games do not replace offline social lives, but is expanding it.
Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm.
A 2013 study by the Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development and St. Hedwig-Hospital found a significant gray matter increase in the right hippocampus, the right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum of those who played Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day over two months. These regions of the brain are crucial for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance. Indeed, the increased gray matter in these parts of the brain is positively correlated with better memory. Decreased gray matter is connected with bipolar disorder and dementia. What’s also striking is that those who enjoyed playing the game had a more pronounced gain in gray matter volume. The study suggests that video game training could be used to counteract known risk factors for smaller hippocampus and prefrontal cortex volume in, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disease.
Another study published in Scientific Reports have found that Action Video Gamers have more gray matter and better integration of brain networks associated with attention and sensorimotor function.
Lastly, according to a study, gamers tend to be more social, more prosperous and more educated than people who make fun of them.
Adverse effects of Video Games
Many of the harmful effects of video games are blamed for 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.
The American Psychological Association (APA) also concluded that there is a “consistent correlation” between violent game use and aggression, but finds insufficient evidence to link violent video play to criminal violence.
An open letter by some media scholars, psychologists, and criminologists, however, find APA’s study and conclusion to be misleading and alarmist.
Likewise, many experts including Henry Jenkins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have noted that there is a decreased rate of juvenile crime that 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.
However, there are cases of teenagers who commit violent crimes who also spend a significant 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 may have your child socially isolated. Also, they may spend less time in other activities such as doing homework, reading, sports and interacting with the family and friends.
A study by researchers at the North Carolina State University, New York and the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology points out that gamers usually do not replace their offline social lives with online game playing, but rather it expands them. In fact, among gamers, being a loner is not the norm.
Specific video games teach kids the wrong values.
These games reward violent behavior, vengeance, and aggression. Negotiating and other nonviolent skills are often not options. Women are often portrayed as weaker characters that are helpless or sexually provocative.
A University of Buffalo study suggests that violence and bad behavior played in the virtual world may be contributing to better behavior in reality. Gamers who play violent games may feel guilty about their behavior in the virtual world and this may make them be more sensitive to the moral issues they violated during game play.
Some games can easily confuse reality and fantasy.
Academic achievement may be negatively about the 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 of 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 harmful effects on some kids’s health, including obesity, video-induced seizures. posture, muscular and skeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, nerve compression, carpal tunnel syndrome.
When playing online, kids can pick up bad language and behavior from other people, and may make your child 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 exhibit social phobias. Not surprisingly, kids addicted to video games see 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.
Suggestions for Video Games Use with Children
Parents need to monitor video game play the same way you need to control 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, Ph.D., 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 preforming 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.”
While playing video games can be a learning experience, give your kid a variety of entertaining things to learn from, so your child 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.
Contemplate limiting your child’s video game playing to an hour a day. A study by Oxford University, in fact, suggests that children who play video games for up to an hour are happier, more sociable and less hyperactive than those who do not play at all.
Monitor the effect of video games on your child. Observe their behavior. If it appears that they are becoming more aggressive with siblings or friends during the period that they are playing violent games, stop them from playing the games. If they become interested in history or science after playing historical games, then the game is beneficial to them.
Limit your child’s video game playing when you see them spending less time doing homework, and they are getting lower grades.
Limit your child’s video game playing when you observe them developing a sedentary lifestyle, and not engaging in sports and exercise.
Limit your child’s video game playing if they begin to display signs of addiction and experience “video game withdrawal.”
Instead of letting your child indulge in watching mindless TV, let them play a video game that educates them.
For young children, playing video games is better than watching 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.
Monitor video game ratings to determine the violence and adult content of the game.
Check the Ratings of the game before you buy it or allow your kid to play it. Note the title and cover picture. If they have themes of sex and/or violence, then these topics are in the game. If possible, be familiar with the game or read the games reviews on the Internet. Sometimes, the “bad” part of the game is hidden in the higher levels. Do not neglect to supervise your kid as a parent.
Consider your child’s maturity level to determine which games are suitable for them. 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 are 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, Ph.D., 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 may 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.”