Sections

Parents: everything you know about video games is wrong

Tuesday, 27th March 2012 12:58 GMT By Scott Steinberg

We know gaming can be a healthy pastime for children, but many parents see it as an unnecessary evil. Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent’s Guide book series, hopes to redress the balance.

As you’re aware, video games are one of today’s most positive, uplifting and enjoyable escapes, and a pop culture medium that even the famed Smithsonian’s now recognizing as among the era’s defining art forms. Alas, many parents still believe that gaming is evil, promotes violence and can foster issues like addiction, obesity and stunted social growth, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Happily, the next time someone tells you “video games are bad for kids,” or you observe a mother or father going into apoplexy just because their child asks for a PlayStation Vita, well… Here’s why you might gently suggest they plug themselves back into reality.

Fact: Controversy sells when it comes to games, but doesn’t necessarily reflect the status quo. While many popular games are rated M, and intended for discerning adults, not only is the average player a 37 year-old male – most game titles are perfectly safe and fun for everyone. “Games can definitely be good for the family,” says the ESRB’s Patricia Vance. “There’s plenty of selection. Oftentimes I think parents feel that they’re not because video games in the media are portrayed as violent, and hardcore games tend to get the lion’s share of publicity. But parents also need to be comforted knowing that E for Everyone is by far largest category [of software]. Nearly 60% of the almost 1700 ratings we assigned last year were E for Everyone, which means there’s a huge selection of games available that are appropriate for all ages.”

Fact: Research shows games can be tremendously beneficial to kids’ growth. Per a recent piece in Parents magazine by Harvard Medical School collaborator Cheryl Olson, “parent-approved video games played in moderation can help young kids develop in educational, social, and physical ways.” Having surveyed interviews with over 1,000 public-school students, her data shows that playing even nondescript outings (read: everyday titles found on GameStop’s shelves) can confer tremendous benefits on children. Beyond encouraging planning, problem solving, and creative self-expression, she also points out that many titles can promote lifelong loves of history and literature, while others encourage socialization, exercise, healthy competition, and leadership. Setting stereotypes aside, as she points out in no uncertain terms, games (shocker) are a perfectly normal part of childhood.

Fact: Games are a powerful tool for teaching and providing new perspectives on the everyday challenges kids face. Unlike boring, passive lectures and training courses, games and virtual worlds actively engage children, encourage them to experiment without fear of embarrassment or repercussion, and let them problem-solve in lifelike scenarios that evolve in real-time. Providing an experience that more closely resembles real-world scenarios, better engages pupils and promotes heightened retention, Duke University’s Dr. Jeffrey Taekman actually calls them the future of education. “The traditional textbook will soon become passé,” he asserts. “Gaming platforms will offer an interactive way for students to learn and apply information in context.” As you’ll happily note, even medical students are now being trained this way – a fact which may come in handy the next time newscasters run a sensationalized media story and Mom has a proverbial heart attack. Oh, and added bonus: Because of their ability to promote strategic thinking, interpretive analysis and rapid adaptation to change, The Federation of American Scientists even claims the skills games teach map well to those sought by today’s top employers. Next time someone tells you to get off the PC and get a job, you may want to let them know you’re actually building valuable career skills.

Fact: Games have great social benefits. Beyond titles such as Just Dance 3, which help bring families together, and can bridge the gap between generations, there are also many games that have positive social messages and encourage families to be a force for good. In a series of experiments published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that participants who had just played a “pro-social” game in which characters must work together to help each other out as compared to those who had just played a “neutral” game (e.g. Tetris) were more likely to engage in helpful behaviors. So-called “serious games,” specifically designed to teach and inform, are also teaching kids about real-life issues, humanitarianism, and geopolitical concerns. Even titles not specifically designated as educational help build confidence as well, providing kids with a sense of positive reinforcement and achievement as they solve puzzles and rise to the challenges contained within.

Fact: Gaming doesn’t have to make you fat and lazy, and can have marked physical benefits. Naturally, kids need both physical and mental exercise – cheerfully, motion-controlled games for Kinect, Wii and PlayStation Move help provide both kinds of workouts at the same time. In fact, the American Heart Association now recommends video games as a fun and entertaining way to enjoy physical activity. Upsides of active play are considerable too. A study reported in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine of 39 Boston middle-school children who played with six different interactive gaming systems found that the games compared favorably with walking on a treadmill at three miles per hour, with four out of the six activities resulting in higher energy expenditure. Other studies show that action video games can improve several aspects of brain activity, including multitasking. “The attentional and working memory demands of video games can be much greater than other tasks,” says Michael Stroud, a professor of psychology at Merrimack College. “Consider Pac-Man as an example. In Pac-Man, you must navigate your character through a spatial layout while monitoring the separate paths of four additional objects (the ghosts), while keeping the overall goal of clearing the small pellets in memory, as well as keeping track of the remaining large pellets. Think about how this may apply to skills such as driving… When you drive your car, you are faced with a constantly changing environment in the road, not to mention several other distractions that compete for attention that reside in the car. At the same time, you are attempting to navigate through the environment to reach a goal.”

High-tech parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the author of The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of “Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids.” A noted games industry consultant and business keynote speaker, the following is excerpted from latest book, The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games, free to download now.

Breaking news

13 Comments

Sign in to post a comment.

  1. LOLshock94

    ive played games all my life and im retarded

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Maximum Payne

    @1 Actually that is very true.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Colin Gallacher

    Nice piece Scott, my parents have always been in the unnecessary evil camp. I think they’re starting to accept that it’s not just a fad that will disappear over time.

    I like to think that gaming has certainly helped me in educational ways over the years, especially in memory and planning situations.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. daspadger

    My youngest son is 10. He’s been playing video games since the age of 2 or so (he completed Simpsons hit and run aged 2.5). He’s plays them most days and given I work in the industry, he’s exposed to practically every gaming platform and most of the titles you’d think you need to see.

    At school he’s way ahead of where he should be in maths, reading and his focus is spot on. He’s creative, entertaining and very popular with his peers. He’s a normal child (other than being afflicted with a daft dad) in every way.

    Athletically, he’s also been the fastest in the school come summer race day, for 3 consecutive years.

    I’ve read a ton about the nonsense gaming is supposed to harm kids, and yeah, I don’t hold much sway in it.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Christopher Jack

    @4, I’d assume you’d also push him to ‘get out’ & play some sports or something in the backyard, it’s the obsessive gaming in kids that cause problems, I think an active parent encourages active children.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. OlderGamer

    A little rose tinted glass viewing me thinks.

    Sure some of what was written makes sense. But there are so many counters it is just silly. One of the largest being; what looks good on paper isn’t always or even often the applied science at work.

    As an example, the games being described as good for you/kids aren’t the games that kids covet. Howmany kids want to play Pacman? Do you want to put down Assasins Creed to play Pacman? Which one do you think an average 10 yr old bugs their parents for? Most of what this piece and the “studies” it references (btw 35 kids doesn’t a study make, too small a size), would promote Wii gaming(and to be fair Kinect/Move). But just like many of you folks here, most kids would snicker at playing Wii. They would rather play the newest CoD. Just like most of you/us.

    I am not saying that games are the root of evil or anything. But I am also not convienced that gaming can make us a better society and better people either. As a whole, obiesity is way up, esp in kids. The education levels of graduating students (in performance testing) is down from where it was 30 and 40 years ago. Just two things that go directly against what this piece would proclaim.

    I like games too, right now I am here writting this only because my wow server is on a rolling restart. But no way I could look at another parent(I raised two kids), and say, “Hey have you thought about Xbox or Playstation?” I know parents that don’t allow games, at all. Those kids are very VERY happy. They play, laugh, and otherwise have a great time(reminds me of being a kid). They don’t miss them. Until they get into school. Then those parents(happend twice that I saw) lose their kids to the influence of other kids that see games as a needed aspect of their lifestyles.

    I think it is unrealistic to keep kids away from games. prolly unhealthy in the way that “when in rome, do as the romens do” type of thing. Games are a big part of our everyday life. They are everywhere, better to teach your kids how to manage their time, then to preach about them being evil. The kids would rebel from that anyway.

    Call me old, but if you think todays media atmosphere is good and healthy(and I am including games to social media) I just can’t agree and can’t see it. Cause I think we will indeed end up with a bunch of lazy, selfish, self centered, overwieght, anti social, ego maniacs that can’t make their own ways in the world.

    Perhaps I could barrow someones rose tinted glasses for a bit? I have a nice tin foil hat to trade.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. DSB

    I completely agree with your stance on this kind of research OG, but I also think that the whole thing is fundamentally out of context.

    People are acting like entertainment shapes people, when that has pretty much never been the case. It’s people who shape entertainment.

    When I was a kid I was watching bad American action movies, playing with guns, playing violent videogames. It meant absolutely nothing to me. I thought it was exciting, but both of my parents were really humanistically oriented, so there was never any doubt in my mind as to the application of violence or what it means.

    And that’s really the issue. You can’t point your finger at any violent event and go “That happened because of a song” or “That happened because of a videogame”. It’s simply never the case.

    The only thing I saw on TV as a kid that left me with nightmares was people being murdered on the streets of Sarajevo.

    Kids need to be taught right from wrong. Games aren’t a part of that. They’re an outside influence that kids need to be equipped to handle. And kids are different. Some may be too exciteable to handle a certain level of intensity, and some may be completely impervious to even the bloodiest videogames.

    It’s a question of where their heads are at (and what their parents have done to recognize and affect that) – Not where the games are at. The cause and effect is completely misrepresented in this debate. Probably because it’s defined and perpetuated by people who don’t have a relationship with the medium.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. OrbitMonkey

    This is a nice counter-point to the EVE-Online bullying story isn’t it? :-D

    Oh wait it’s not the game making kids douches, their douches playing games… But made worse cuz of what their playing? It’s a real chicken or egg conundrum ;-)

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Freek

    Games, the internet and social media are definetly a ppsitive influence to society. They are a way of binging knowledge and social interaction to almost everyone, everywhere.

    You only have to look at projects like this:
    http://boingboing.net/2010/09/30/it-gets-better-video.html

    And
    http://www.ted.com/talks

    And
    http://bigthink.com/

    To see that, you no longer grow up in isolation without any perspective on the world. It’s verry easy to find knowledge and share it with other people.

    Why do you think opressive regimes try to block out the internet? It’s far to easy for citicens to start seeing the world the way it really is and start using social media to start a revolution. Exactly what is happening in the Middle East right now.

    That inlcudes games too. You start playing online, soon you make friends and start meeting up in real life.
    It is not a tool for social isolation when you play responsibly.

    And the example of Pac-Man is merely a simplification of a principle that aplies to all games.
    Problem solving skills and spacial awareness are key to almost every game. he could have just as easely said Tomb Raider, or Half Life or Portal.

    And it’s also utterly bizar to think that kids do not want to play Wii or Kinect games.
    Where do you think all those millions of units sold go to? Not to the hardcore gamer, he/she is not interested in it, but families and kids are. That is where the motion control money is made.
    That 60% E for Everyone marketshare doesn’t come out of thin air. It’s sales and money being made. The majority of games being bought, played and sold are not violent.

    Yes, bullying and obesity exist in this world, but do not go blamming people’s own lack of self control personality flaws on some of the greatest new technologies mankind has come up with. A way to interact and share all our knowledge and entertainment with nearly everyone.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Ireland Michael

    “How many kids want to play Pacman? Do you want to put down Assasins Creed to play Pacman? Which one do you think an average 10 yr old bugs their parents for?”

    My son actively plays Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX on my Xbox 360 every chance he gets, and fully accepts that games above his age rating (he’s 12), like Assassin’s Creed, are not allowed to be played without the prior consent of his mother and I first. We’ll monitor the content he plays, but never to the point of being totalitarian about it.

    His interest in games of a violent nature or heavy in action is almost completely non-existent anyway, and he spends 90% of his gaming time engrossed in ones that allow for creative building, customization and level design – LittleBigPlanet, Minecraft, etc.

    We both encourage this because we believe that its very healthy and productive for him to nurture his personal desire for creativity. I think this interactive element is probably the single best thing about gaming, and it has some powerful applications for learning when done right.

    (Tangent – I learned more about the colonization of America, the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution from playing Colonization on my crappy 586 Gateway 2000 PC back in the 90s then I ever did in any stuffy history class in school. Just sayin’.)

    Allow me to stroke our egos for a second and say that I wish more parents would follow our examples.

    Mind you, I so agree that the article comes across a little one sided, but I think the point of it wasn’t to champion gaming as some sort of all-encompassing, life-affirming hobby, but to dispel some of the more extreme myths about its negative sides. I’m sure Scott is more than aware that they exist, and what those negative sides are.

    Gaming, part of an active healthy diet!

    #10 2 years ago
  11. absolutezero

    “most kids would snicker at playing Wii. They would rather play the newest CoD. Just like most of you/us.”

    I’ll kill you to death.

    My Nephew is still playing Mario 3D Land on his 3DS he just got 100 coins. He has a Wii. He has shown no interest in the worst that the “mature” side of gaming has to offer.

    Im pretty proud of the little guy.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. DarkElfa

    I like pie.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. shadela16

    Ah, I like this article.

    I am 17 years old. I like playing video games. I like playing VIOLENT video games. Such as Halo, Assassin’s Creed, maybe CoD if I go see my older brother (as I don’t have it, but he does).

    I have no interest in drugs, or commiting acts of violence (such as a shooting spree).

    @ #6 This is totally personal, but I play Assassin’s Creed. Do you know what this did for me? It got me interested in history. I am currently taking a world history class and I love it, because it is something I’m interested in. I wasn’t nearly as interested in history before I played those games. That same game has gotten me thinking about my education and my career, since now I really want to travel to multiple places in Europe, such as Italy (which is where Assassin’s Creed 2 takes place).

    Though there are many problems that can come about with children playing video games that are violent, there CAN be some good things that come out of them.

    What I’m saying is, parents shouldn’t be so PESSIMISTIC about video games. Try to see the good things that come out of them. Of course, encourage children to go outside, but allow them to have their play time too.

    #13 2 years ago