How our children benefit from playing video games

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If you are reading this than you already know: whether we like it or not, video games affect our children more than we wished for. Now it is up to us to make sure their video game experience provides contribution, rather than damage to their personal and social development.

This article begins by comprehensively reviewing the BENEFITS of video games to our young gamers.

I divided these into the following contribution areas:

  • Basic/Physical Skills
  • Traditional ‘School’ Skills
  • Character building
  • High level, real life Skills

Basic / Physical skills

  • Vision. Studys show that the visual processing capabilities of the average gamer are far better than those of non-gamers. They recognize objects, movements and changes faster and at better resolutions, than non- gamers.
  • Improved recognition of visual information – studys by the Nothwestern university found that people who play video games on a regular basis are better at registering visual data and are therefore quicker visual learners. They Identify and track more moving objects than non gamers. They identify bodies,colors and changes more quickly and accurately than non gamers.
  • Hand-eye coordination and spatial skills –Role playing games (RPGs) require the game character to move around, look around and perform various actions at the same time. Shooting games in particular, require the character to run, look around, aim and shoot at the same time. As studies show, This requires the real-world player to keep track of the position of the character, where he/she is heading, his speed, whether or not he is in the line of fire, where the gun is aiming, if the gunfire is hitting the enemy, and so on. This process requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination and visual-spatial ability. Here is a study about spatial ability, and another spatial capacity study. If you would like to encourage your kids to develop those spatial skills than minecraft, tetris come to mind as well. As for me, I still am a blockout fan.
  • Situational awareness – The US Army has reported that it incorporated video games to train soldiers to improve their situational awareness in combat with successful results. Many strategy games also require the player to become mindful of sudden situational changes in the game and adapt accordingly. Here is a study showing similar development in situational awareness among gamers and professional sportsmen.
  • Accuracy – 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.
  • Fine motor skills – A study from Beth Israel Medical Center NY, found a direct link between skill at video gaming and skill at keyhole, or laparoscopic, surgery. Doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 % fewer mistakes in surgery and performed the task 27% faster than non-gaming surgeons. The recent increase in fighter pilots skills is explained to an extent by the experience of this generation of pilots are playing video games.
  • Fitness  – First studies coming out these days, showing that the physically active video games (AVG) those that require the player to perform physical activity to play the game- actually contribute to its fitness. Those are best known as the Wii games, Dance Dance revolution, but there’s also a variety of AVGs on Xbox Kinect, and PS4 games.

Traditional ‘School’ Skills

Skills they hopefully pick up / sharpen at school.

  • Reading – The young gamer reads to get instructions, follow storylines of games, and get information from the game texts. Studys show that children with attention deprivation improve their reading capacity through video gaming. Children with dyslexia, however, do not. Sceptic? Read this study.
  • Math skills – Using math skills is important to win in many games that involve quantitative analysis like managing resources. Find it hard to believe? Check this study.
  • Problem solving and logic – Games include problem solving, logical and physical puzzle handling, riddle understanding, decryption of sign based messages, overcoming physical challenges of various sorts. This is not limited to 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.This study provides an interesting point of view on the matter.
  • 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.The Nothwestern University study also shows that hey are also more resistant to perceptual interference, and are therefore able to learn for a longer period of time in distracting environments.
  • Mapping and navigation– The gamer use in-game maps or build maps on his head to navigate around virtual worlds.
  • Information Management – Playing first person shooter games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield series enables the player to effectively 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.
  • 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 a student in a laboratory, the gamer must come up with a hypothesis. For example, the gamer must constantly try out combinations of weapons and powers to use to defeat an enemy.  If one does not work, he changes hypothesis and try the next one.  Video games are goal-driven experiences, says Gee, which are fundamental to learning.

Character Building

One of the key reasons for playing games is the ability to be someone else. It is the same reasons people wear masks in holidays. By assuming a different identity, they can do things they cannot do anywhere else. They can fly, jump high, operate any means of transportation, use any machine or weapon, partner with admirable figures, fight opponents bigger and stronger than them, lead an army, conquer a country, change the world and universe.

When assuming this identity our children will take bigger risks, embark on bigger challenges, make friends easily, and receive lots of love, appreciation, intimacy, honesty and loyalty from them. Yes, all that – at the press of a button.

Consumed at a certain measure, this changes how they perceive themselves, their personal and social value and capabilities, also in the outside world.

It is important to understand it, not only to understand why they are so addicted to it, but also how games can contribute to their experience and growth. I gathered a few examples, As much as I could I mentioned the studies that came up with these findings. Here we go:

  • Perseverance – In higher levels of a game, the player usually fails the first time around, but he keeps on trying until he succeeds and move on to the next level.
  • Taking risks – Winning in any game involves a player’s courage to take risks. Most games do not reward players who play safely.
  • 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.
  • Responding properly to challenges,  
  • Handling frustrations
  • Exploring and re-considering their goals.

High level, real life Skills

The skills required to win involve abstract and high level thinking.  These skills are not even taught at school. The main benefits of playing video games involve enhancing mental skills that include:

  • 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.
  • 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, an unexpected surprise like an enemy might emerge.  This forces the player to be flexible and quickly change tactics.
  • Management – 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.
  • 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 a student in a laboratory, the gamer must come up with a hypothesis. For example, the gamer must constantly try out combinations of weapons and powers to use to defeat an enemy.  If one does not work, he changes hypothesis and try the next one.  Video games are goal-driven experiences, says Gee, which are fundamental to learning.
  • Quick thinking, making fast analysis and decisions.  Sometimes the player does this almost every second of the game giving the brain a real workout. 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.”