Why digital time isn’t always bad
Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Atari. What has remained constant over the years, though, is the perception that video games are bad for kids.
There are, however, tangible benefits to playing video games, especially the strategy and prosocial kind, which deserve mention. Playing video games, with a parent’s guidance concerning both the time spent playing and the quality of games, has been shown to boost children’s cognitive, social, fine motor and emotional development.
Spatial ability. Video games improve spatial ability, which is the capacity to visualize, rotate, transform and manipulate objects. Spatial ability, also called spatial reasoning, is vital for success in math, science, engineering, and technology.
Persistence. Players encounter increasing difficulty as they try to advance or achieve higher levels in games. Yet, as parents know, instead of giving up (and turning off the game!), their kids persist until they achieve the desired level or goal.
Problem solving. Not only are gamers persistent when playing, but they are problem solvers, too. When a child jumps off a cliff in a game and crash lands, for instance, she learns from her ‘mistake’. She tries until she finds a new way, or multiple ways, to jump and land successfully.
Hand-eye coordination. Managing a controller with their hands while watching a screen with their eyes improves kids’ hand-eye coordination. In fact, research from the medical journal PLOS One found that surgeons who played video games improved their hand-eye coordination and precise muscle movement.
Social. As multiplayer games like Fortnite have exploded in popularity, gamers have reaped social benefits. Players bond together to defeat a common enemy. They lend each other equipment, rescue one another and strategize for the good of their team. Outside of the game, players talk in real life about their shared experiences and the latest updates to their favorite game.
Emotional. Playing video games is a lot like dramatic role playing. Both kinds of play allow kids to put themselves in a fear- or anger-inducing situation, but within the safety of it being a game. As they play, whether in dramatic play or through a video game, children practice how to handle these emotions and learn how to regulate or calm themselves.
Stress reduction. Getting swept away by a video game allows many kids to find relief from the academic, social, and extracurricular pressures that fill their days. Like watching TV or reading a book, playing video games is a means to refocus the brain on something other than what stresses it.
Creativity. Researchers at Michigan State University found a relation between video game playing and creativity. The more that twelve-year-olds played video games, the more creative they were in drawing pictures and writing stories.
Of course, more is not always better when it comes to playing video games. Families should monitor both quantity and quality, striving for time spent playing video games to complement time with family and friends, playing sports or music and sleeping. Parents must also be aware of the important difference between allowing children play strategy or prosocial games while restricting their play of mature, first-person shooter games.