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Rather than seeing stories about the benefits of playing video games, if you spend any time watching the news or you search online for the effects of video games on children, you are bound to find some terrifying claims. Everything from depression, to violence, to antisocial behavior, obesity, and poor sleeping habits are blamed on video game play. However, when you read any of the actual literature on the effects of playing video games, most of those claims are untrue.
The fact of the matter is, there are more than 2.5 billion video gamers around the world, and the video game industry is estimated to be worth more than $90 billion dollars by 2020. It is safe to say that video games are here to stay. Rather than villainizing video game play, maybe it is time to shift focus to the benefits of playing video games.
The Benefits of Playing Video Games
Video games promote social interaction.
Most of the time, playing video games is a social experience for kids. In a 2008 Pew Research Center Study, 75% of the kids surveyed reported playing video games with other people – either in the same room together or through online play – at least some of the time. When those same kids are playing online with other gamers, they are often (47% of the time) playing with people they know in real life.
When they are not playing video games with friends, kids who play video games are often talking about them. They talk about the games they like and do not like. They talk strategy. They talk about the best characters, weapons, vehicles, and loot. One of the benefits of playing video games is that friendships are often formed and bonded over video game talk.
Video games benefit cognitive ability.
Time and again, studies show that kids who play video games have higher IQs and perform better on a wide variety of cognitive tests than those who do not play video games. One 2003 study confirmed that playing video games increased players’ visual attention to a task even when presented with distractions.
A 2010 article analyzed a number of studies and showed that video game players showed positive changes in a number of sensory, perceptual, and concentration abilities that benefited spatial cognition. That is, it benefited the part of their brain that acquires and uses knowledge about their environment to determine where they are. Another article that analyzed 89 different studies found a strong positive relationship between the amount of time kids spend playing action video games and their scores on tests of perception, attention, spatial cognition, multitasking, and their ability to switch strategies quickly when one strategy does not work.
Research tied to strategy and puzzle games shows that playing these types of games improves problem-solving and may even result in higher grades in school.
Concentration, multitasking, problem solving – clearly, one of the benefits of playing video games is that it has a positive effect on all kinds of important cognitive abilities.
Video games improve skills.
People who play video games have better eye-hand coordination than their non-gaming peers. One study showed that people who played video games were better at flying drones than people who did not play video games. The video game players were actually found to be as good in this skill as trained drone pilots!
Another study found that new surgeons who were also video gamers outperformed the most experienced surgeons in their field. In a separate experiment, new surgeons who were given experience with video games improved their performance in surgery compared with a control group of surgeons who did not have the experience. So one of the benefits of playing video games might just be that your child grows up to be a successful surgeon. Not bad.
There is also evidence to suggest that kids who play video games improve their leadership skills. Many popular games involve a group working together to move past an obstacle or defeat an enemy. Working towards a goal and synchronizing a team despite disagreements that arise are leadership skills that can be learned from playing video games. Learning how to use these skills is good practice for kids to become effective leaders as they grow up.
Video games lead to more civic engagement.
There is strong evidence that playing certain video games relates to teens’ engagement in civic and political activities. It seems that when teens play video games in the same room with other kids, they are more likely to go online to get information about politics, to have raised money for charity, and to say they are committed to civic participation and interested in politics. They are also more likely to stay informed about current events.
It may seem surprising that one of the benefits of playing video games is that kids are growing up to be more charitable and more politically engaged. More research needs to be done to understand why this is the case. However, it is clear that the argument that video games are making kids less engaged in the world is very much not the case.
Video games develop perseverance.
Research shows that video game players prove more persistent than non-video game players when attempting to solve difficult anagrams and riddles. This finding should not be surprising. The basic structure of most video games teaches players that being persistent gets results.
Video games are typically designed so that the difficulty increases as a player navigates further in the game. In order to continue moving further and further into the game, the player has to solve harder problems or overcome more difficult challenges at each level. Being persistent and trying different strategies eventually leads to solving the problem or challenge and moving on to the next level, which presents the next more difficult challenge.
The good news is that developing perseverance through game playing seems to translate into using the skill in real life.
In The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games, Dr. Peter Gray writes, “Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.” The benefits of playing video games are numerous when you start to actually look at the research and the experiences of kids who play them rather than spending time fighting against video games.
Instead of being scared of the differences in childhood today, and trying to fight against them, parents need to embrace those differences – like the prominence of video game play, for example – and use them to their children’s advantage. We are creating the next generation of surgeons and drone pilots after all.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out The Mom’s Guide to Kids and Technology.
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Sources: 2019 Video Game Industry Statistics, Trends & Data, Teens, Video Games and Civics, Action Video Game Modifies Visual Selective Attention, Video Games and Spatial Cognition, Benefits of Play Revealed in Research on Video Gaming, Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games, The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games, The relationship between video game use and a performance-based measure of persistence