Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is Video Gaming GOOD for Kids?

Surprising New Facts – Just in Time for Christmas Gift Giving

“Zack, what do you think you’re doing – it’s way past your bedtime. Turn off the computer and go to bed!”

“But, Dad, I can’t sleep, so I figured that—”

“Then read a book. Count sheep. Anything but getting your head lost in a video game. You’re too smart to be turning your brain to mush on all this gaming!”

Any chance you’ve had similar discussions in your home? 

This particular “script” is straight from the pages of our child-rearing days. My wife and I were sure that computer gaming and video gaming was destroying our son, turning him into a future aimless degenerate. 

But it turns out we were wrong. Less than three years later, our son was hired by Microsoft as a game tester! Which resulted in two things: A burgeoning career in computer programming for our son and a whole lot of egg on our faces.

Results may vary…

I’m not saying that letting your kids spend hours daily in front of gaming systems will necessarily result in a hire from Microsoft. And I suspect you may not want to arm your kids with any further “ammo” in favor of the gaming systems or latest video games that are taking over their Christmas wish lists. But I feel obligated to tell you that, indeed, there is a growing collection of evidence that challenges many long held parental assumptions, such as the belief that children will lose their competitive edge in life if they spend hours of their growing years lost in the world of video gaming.

Possible benefits of gaming

Before sweeping away the notion of gaming and game systems from gifting plans, consider the following.

Video gaming and social skills  

video games
Video gaming can encourage
social interaction.

Surprising stats from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reveal that gaming has evolved into a surprisingly social activity. The ESA's study 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry shows that:

  • Sixty-two percent of gamers are engaged socially, either because they are playing with others in the same room or because of the online multi-player features of the games. 
  • Fifty-nine percent of parents polled feel that online and video game play has helped their kids connect with their friends.
More than ever, video and computers games are designed to be social – to be interactive with humans, not just machines. But beyond just togetherness, many computer and video games can aid in the development of social skills. Many online games are multi-player games, played with a community of other gamers, and played in a way that game success is only possible when the team’s individuals work cooperatively. And since many of the multi-player games require the assignment of leaders, the social games can aid in developing leadership skills.

What about violent games? Apparently, even they may be less harmful than previously assumed, according to the results of two studies from Ohio State University. While research has long established links between playing violent video games and aggression, these new studies showed that students who teamed up to play violent video games, later showed more cooperative behavior, and sometimes less signs of aggression, than students who were encouraged to play the games competitively.

Video gaming and physical development

Countless news studies and real-world experiences show that some video games can be physically good for you. Sure, computer games will rarely have the same physical benefits as having your children involved in sports such as soccer, track, or football, but many of today’s computer and video games are very physical, specifically computer games in the category of exergaming – video games that are also a form of exercise, made possible by using technology that tracks body movement or reaction. Some examples:
  • Most of the games designed for the Wii gaming system are physically active, as the Nintendo Wii system games interpret your body movement into game play through its handheld devices. 
  • Computer video games such as Dance Dance Revolution require intense physical movement, coordinating with eye/mental activity, to succeed. Some gamers have even reported significant weight loss through regular Dance Dance Revolution gameplay.
Recent studies by the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), a teaching institution and certification agency for fitness trainers, show that exergaming can increase metabolism, reduce insulin resistance, promote sodium-potassium pump activity, and burn calories.  Purportedly, some video games even serve as a springboard to the real sports that the exergames mimic and are even being encouraged by sports coaches.

Even non-exergames have physical benefits when they require hand-eye coordination and develop manual dexterity. Preschoolers studied by Deakin University playing interactive video games improved important object control motor skills, including catching, kicking, and ball-throwing.

Video gaming and intelligence

Some video games can develop mental skills, according to the University of Rochester.  Their studies show that those who play action-based games improved decisions making skills, scoring 25 percent better than non-gamers, both in terms of speed and accuracy. Other studies reveal that games improve the reasoning ability and problem solving skills.

Yes, there can be risks

Too much of even a good thing can be a bad thing, as they say. So maintain active parenting, watching the types and volume of games that occupy your kids’ time. Video game systems are not good babysitters; don’t let the game system replace good parenting.

As well, help them choose games that are age-appropriate by verifying the age rating for each game, as judged by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Their ratings scale:
  • E – games designed for everyone – i.e., considered safe for children 
  • E10+ – games appropriate for everyone over the age of 10
  • T – best for teens or older
  • M – for mature audiences over age 17
  • A – for adult audiences over 18 years old
Beyond ratings, here are a few other precautions you can take to reduce the risks.
  • Keep the online computer in a public area of the house.
  • Use caution with children gaming "after hours” unsupervised.
  • With multi-player online games, use “street smarts” – be aware that your kids can be playing with online strangers, with all the risks that an online chat room can have for kids.
Summary: If you’re on the wall about giving video games as Christmas gifts, choose the games and gaming systems wisely and you may be doing a good thing for your child.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


  1. I see where you are coming from but I differ in opinions. I see way too many 20 somethings in what is called "extended adolescence". They sit around all day and play video games and stay up all night watching movies, yet they choose to have relationships that lead to marriage and kids but they have not grown up enough to do more than waste time. Not to mention, I am against the cost of them. I have spent too much time in other countries and see what real life is like. It does not include thousands of dollars a year just to entertain ourselves. Now I will admit I am probably the only one in America with this belief but I thought I would share anyways. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing, Laura! It's that all-night-playing-games business that I refer to in the article when i say "Too much of even a good thing can be a bad thing" and "watching the types and volume of games that occupy your kids’ time." Without a doubt, there may be dozens (hundreds?) of better ways to spend money than on gaming. That said, the studies coming out, and referenced in the article, do suggest that gaming has some mental, physical, and social benefits. Do those benefits measure up against taking your kids on missions trips to serve the poor in other countries? Highly doubtful, to your well-stated point.