It’s happened to all of us: Your baby—the one who used to tear up the grass in your backyard playing soccer and linger in the kitchen after his post-school snack—now disappears down the basement stairs the moment he gets home. The LEGOs and Frisbees and magic sets have gone away. Overnight, he went from a kid with a set of Pokemon cards to a tween who spends all of his waking hours playing Xbox.
Sometimes, you have to ask yourself: How can a kid who still sleeps with a stuffed cheetah gun down all those zombies? And how can he score at will on FIFA 15, when you still can’t figure out how to pass?
Yes, your son is a full-fledged gamer, and he has the wireless headset and bizarre faux-pleather gaming chair to prove it.
We hand wring about this at times, we mothers of boys, because we receive so many bad-mommy vibes in the media. Our kids spend too much time in front of their screens. Those screens are exiled to the basement or the bedroom, far from our watchful eyes and ears. The games they play are violent and thuggish, which will surely leak into the waking lives of our poor, impressionable children.
But what if video games aren’t so bad after all? A growing body of research into the gaming brain is beginning to turn some of our long held assumptions about video games on their heads. So before you rip that controller out of your son’s hand, consider this:
Gamers have better vision than non-gamers.
Hard-core gamers who play FPS, or “first person shooter,” games, such as Call of Duty or Halo, develop greater visual perception than non-gamers. In simple terms, this means their brains were able to recognize patterns and draw conclusions based on less visual information than the rest of us.
Certain video games improve a person’s cognitive abilities.
In studies, playing real-time strategy games, such as Starfall, increased a player’s cognitive flexibility, which meant they were not only able to switch between tasks more effectively, but also to perform tasks more quickly and more accurately.
Video games may have important applications in treating diseases such as ADHD.
That’s the premise of a branch of research called “therapeutic neurogaming,” which uses the mechanics of video games to develop therapies for kids to treat ADHD, anxiety disorders and depression. In these applications, the video game environment may help children train their brains to avoid or shut down stimuli that are distracting and help them to stay on task.
Video games improve reaction times, spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination.
A lifetime ago, I swore to my parents that playing Tetris was helping me learn how to parallel park a car. It turns out I may have been onto something. Spatial reasoning, which is the ability to visualize and move 2-D and 3-D objects, is strongly tied to achievement in math, science and engineering, and video games like Tetris and Minecraft help develop these skills.
So I don’t know about you, but I’m embracing the gaming habits of my tween-to-be. Heck, I may even start joining him.