Most parents believe that video games waste time when kids should be engaging in healthier activities such as school, outdoor play, sports, and community service. Yet research is quickly proving the theory wrong and illustrating that gaming can be a beneficial and well-rounded part of a healthy, balanced media diet.
Moreover, due to their interactivity, at odds with passive mediums such as television, kids’ video games can actually be one of today’s most powerful tools for sparking learning and creativity. But while gaming offers tremendous potential, it also bears remembering: It takes a running commitment from parents and teachers to actively follow and participate in the pastime to make it a truly safe, healthy, and rewarding part of household life.
As Harvard Medical School researcher Cheryl Olson, ScD succinctly summarizes in Parents magazine, “Parent-approved video games played in moderation can help young kids develop in educational, social, and physical ways.” Olson’s work, which included surveying data from interviews with over 1,000 public-school students, clearly illustrates the many upsides offered by even seemingly innocuous titles — i.e., not those labeled specifically as “serious games” or “edutainment.”
“Games can definitely be good for the family,” says Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) president Patricia Vance. “There’s plenty of selection. Oftentimes I think parents feel that they’re not because video games in the media are portrayed as violent, and hardcore games tend to get the lion’s share of publicity. But parents also need to be comforted knowing that E for Everyone is by far largest category [of software]. Nearly 60% of the almost 1700 ratings we assigned last year were E for Everyone, which means there’s a huge selection of games available that are appropriate for all ages.”
What’s more, kids aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from button-mashing (and not just because the average player is now 37 years old and more adult women play than teenage males). Research from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) actually indicates that video games can help adults to process information much faster and improve their fundamental abilities to reason and solve problems in novel contexts.
A study published in a recent edition of Archives of Surgery also says that surgeons who regularly play video games are generally more skilled at performing laparoscopic surgery. Findings by Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, likewise reflect that video gamers show real-world improvements on tests of attention, accuracy, vision, and multitasking after playing certain titles. No surprise there, confirms Michael Stroud, a professor of psychology at Merrimack College, who explains that games’ active demands on our attention and working memory all map well to performing similarly complex real-world tasks.
What’s more, experts say, serious games and virtual environments may be the future of education. Not only do students find gaming more approachable and engaging than lectures and PowerPoint presentations, they insist on them. Simulations also provide a more inviting and lifelike context in which to make choices, see results, and apply learning in real-time. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) states that kids actually need more, not less, video game play as a result. Citing games’ ability to prepare workers for the increasingly competitive global job market, the organization says that games promote strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, plan formulation, and ability to respond to change.
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