I’ve never been a “gamer,” but my husband sure is. He grew up on everything from Mario Kart to Call of Duty, whereas I grew up with the stereotypes. You know the ones… video games make kids violent. Video games make kids impatient. And, my personal favorite, video games make kids lazy.
Not long into our relationship, we became pregnant with twins. Before we even knew what we were having, my husband said to me one day, “Do you know how much fun it’s going to be to play video games with them?” It wasn’t the only thing he was excited about, but it was something he was (and still is) really into, and he hoped that he could share that hobby with at least one kid, if not two. Like any father who says, “I can’t wait to take our kid fishing when they are older,” my husband couldn’t wait to teach them all about gaming.
Let’s just say, I didn’t feel the same way. Because to me, video games were a waste of time. I think my words were, “Video games don’t give you anything to show for your achievements once you are done.” Now, I’ve had to eat those words I so proudly stood behind, because like father, like son — my boy is now obsessed with all things gaming.
They aren’t my forte by any means (we’ve already established that), but watching him discover his love for video games is almost the equivalent of sneaking some greens into his smoothie. Because even when the video game he’s playing isn’t designed to be educational in the slightest bit, there’s no denying that he is still learning.
According to researchers, video games have actually evolved into “effective learning tools” over the past half-century. “Not only do they promote an astounding amount of time on task, the games also use a number of techniques known to promote efficient and transferable learning,” Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green, authors and psychologists who specialize in perceptual learning, said in The American Journal of Play. “Although some researchers express concern about the potential negative outcomes of gaming, others see quite clearly that video game training creates a great number of positive outcomes.”
Video games should be supervised, with parental controls put into place when necessary, of course. Even still, the online gaming community is a wealth of opportunity for kids to socially interact with their peers. Multiplayer games require the player to depend on other members of the team for help and vice versa, presenting kids with some amazing teamwork abilities they can carry with them into real-life situations.
Most times, too, video games can be a positive experience for kids because of the game’s reward system. Whether it be words of affirmation or a new feature unlocked that allows the gamer more flexibility, positive reinforcement can be a vital part in keeping kids motivated even after they’ve failed a time or two.
No kid wants to play a game for fun only to be pushed too hard without an incentive — that’s what makes kids feel defeated. At the same time, they certainly don’t want a game that’s boring due to a lack of difficulty. In my brief time as a “gamer” mom, I’ve come to realize that video games are good at finding a balanced ground tailored to meet the needs of many users.
Even as a beginner, video games create space for these incentives by allowing the user to adjust difficulty settings. This strategy of keeping kids interested throughout multiple rounds and differing scenarios is a great way for kids to practice their newly-acquired skill sets in alternate ways and settings in order to reach a common goal. Whether that goal is to cross the finish line, beat the bad guys, or even to accomplish a thought-provoking task, video games teach our kids how to be resourceful by nurturing their problem-solving techniques.
To put this into a real-life perspective that’s easy to understand, think about tying a knot. Though there are several ways to do this, not every type of knot is going to be the most effective method for the situation at hand. The goal may be the same, but the steps to get there in the most beneficial way are not.
According to the American Psychological Association, strategic games, particularly those with a role-playing aspect, have been shown to improve a child’s problem solving ability while also boosting their grades in the following school year. Action games can sharpen a child’s problem-solving ability, and at the same time, teach them a thing or two about multi-tasking.
In a recent article with NPR, one columnist, Kaity Kline, shares her experiences with learning through gaming while she was growing up. When Kline was seven, she says that she learned to multiply rather quickly through an educational game called “Treasure Mountain!”, but “Assassin’s Creed” provided her with an interactive way to learn history.
“You can learn about the Olympic Games, and how Sparta trained its soldiers in ancient Greece, with real historical figures acting as your tour guides. Or jump over to ancient Egypt to check out mummies and climb on the pyramids. There are also points of interest scattered around the map if you want to do some extra reading. The tours are free with the purchase of a base game, but you can also buy them separately,” Kline says. “Obviously, Assassin’s Creed can’t teach you everything you need to know about the ancient world — but the games do make that world come alive for people who are reluctant to learn, like I was.”
Just because video games are new (“new” meaning they’ve been developed within the last century), doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad. The methods of teaching and learning are ever-evolving, and they are happening in the most unorthodox ways. Beyond teaching kids how to deal with real-life situations, video games also improve hand-eye coordination, boosts creativity, can retrain lazy eye, and can increase cognitive flexibility even in the elderly who have seen an age-related cognitive decline.
To some (much like the old me), these video games may be just that — games people play to pass the time. But it’s important to realize that, to our kids, these virtual accomplishments are points they can feel proud of. And if boosting my child’s confidence was the only positive outcome from video games, it’d still be worth letting him play a million times.