Kids and Video Games

The never-ending debate over the effect of video games on children is something that has spanned the last few decades. Tales of woe from fear-mongers are strewn all over papers and web-blogs every day, warning us of the evil influence that games have on our children. But… what if they are wrong? What does the research have to say?

Not surprisingly, there is very little evidence to support the idea that gaming is a bad thing for our children, and a lot more research that supports the benefits of a healthy gaming lifestyle. What is even more interesting is that since the ever-growing popularity of violent video games over the last decade, there has been a massive decline in real-world violence in our youth. A decline.

Several studies have actually shown that children are taking out their aggression more effectively in real life when they have an outlet like video games to use, as opposed to when they have no other means and resort to taking out their aggression through physical manifestations. So, why all the sudden news about these horrible ‘video game-related’ tragedies? First and foremost, the internet over the last 10 years has become a wellspring of news that has been given much more credence and attention than in previous years. You only notice it’s happening more often because you are seeing it more readily than before. Secondly, there is an increasing awareness of what kinds of games are available on the market now – as many more mature games like Doom were not as widely advertised on television and the internet in the early 90s, which means it was less widely known that these violent video games were readily available to our kids.

Texas A&M International University conducted “The Hitman Study” with a group of gamer and non-gamer students, and it yielded some pretty fascinating results. They took both groups and tasked them with completing the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT). This test has been used to elicit and measure emotional responses, as it is inspires levels of extreme irritation and frustration in its test subjects. Those who frequently played violent video games had significantly less stress or problems with the test than that of the non-gamers. The results of the PASAT on gamers caters to The Catharsis Hypothesis, which is the idea that aggression is a biological need that must find an outlet, and if an outlet is found, it can produce a more leveled temperament even under pressure. I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t ensure that their children are playing age-appropriate games, or that we should be subjecting children to violence in order to desensitize them. However, there seems to be a very distinct correlation between anger management and finding a safe outlet – be it through a racing game or a hunting game.

Another interesting result of some other studies have shown that children who have televisions or the availability of games in their bedrooms are frequently more active and more engaged with other children than those without. These children are typically more fit, active, and even more socially well-adjusted than their non-gamer counterparts. The logic behind this is that with the technology so readily available to them, it becomes commonplace and something that they can just simply do without – especially when pursuing more active means of socialization. It also provides a social window that evokes discussions, debates, and challenges in an atmosphere that helps them engage with other children their age on a more meaningful level. As most games require a fair amount of reading, it is as if the children are discussing points of a book and assisting others in their journey through said novel in their everyday life!

Where video games really hit home for children is in mental stimulation and development. Many video games improve problem solving, memory, motor skills, co-ordination, deductive reasoning, critical thinking, and can even assist with advanced literacy. A big example of mental stimulation for children is in fast-paced action games. They have proven to further develop a child’s ability to visually comprehend the relationships of objects similar to one another, and can assist in improving techniques which are frequently used in standardized IQ tests, with regards to pattern recognition, special awareness, and more.

People often forget what children are doing while they play video games, and only see them glued to an inanimate object, devoid of interaction or higher levels of thinking. The fact is that they are socializing, reading, controlling many physical objects while using higher reasoning to complete their goals. Socially, video games help build fundamental traits such as teamwork and patience, creating a common mentality that exists as a social norm among our children.

I understand that many people believe that because I am a gamer, I should have no say when it comes to this debate. One such argument springs from State Senator Leland Yee, claiming: “Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.” The truth is, I went to university for Psychology; I am a human being with feelings and thoughts, all my own. To say my opinion does not matter is to say that I am a second-class citizen, or that I have an addiction for blood and gore that spans beyond all reason. Essentially, because I play Text Twist on my phone at lunch, I wave all rights to an opinion. I mean, let’s face it: mixing letters around a board to create multiple words is very violent business, and I will lead society into a bloody mindset filled with Scategories and Scrabble!

Meanwhile, back in the land of reality, people need to keep in mind that video games, like any other activity, can be abused. You see it all the time in society: workaholics, shopaholics, and even work-out addicts. There are many reasons behind addiction, and most of them are either chemical or psychological in nature. Anything can become a ‘drug’ if you let it – video games are not the underlying problem. Common sense would dictate that you don’t blame the fact that people need money to survive which causes workaholics, or the fact that people need groceries which makes them shopaholics. The same should hold true of video games – there are appropriate levels of play and inappropriate levels of play. If someone crosses that line and lets it become an addiction, there are usually bigger problems underneath the surface that are enabling the addiction to set in.

In a world where technology is becoming one of the most important necessities, it is only natural that the generations growing up in this day and age will develop differently than those that came before them. Juan Enriquez (one of the world’s leading authorities in the Life Sciences field) theorizes that our children (and their children) may actually be adapting and evolving beyond us on a physical level with regard to brain activity. As society’s priorities change, so must ours. By disconnecting our children from being exposed to the social changes and technologies they may need to understand as adults, we are actually stunting their development in ways we can only begin to imagine. Video games do not destroy children’s minds, nor their bodies – they are a tool that can be used properly or improperly, and it’s up to us to help our youth discern when and how to use it.

Parents and mentors still need to monitor and be involved in what their children are doing, but the way in which the new generations communicate is changing, and it is important to recognize this so we can help in their development. If your child was a bookworm, you would not complain. But if they read novels on a computer screen it is considered improper. If your child was into wrestling, go-karting, or even football, you’d be thrilled. Put that into an imaginary world and you start to develop an unease that spills over into the media and the general populous.

When adults take an active role in understanding and supporting the ways in which our youth are choosing to grow and learn, we are creating the foundations for a better society. Video games may just feel like a basic, unimportant leisure activity for many, but there is so much more involved that we often neglect to see. Taking an active interest in your children’s pastimes may not only be beneficial for them, but for you as well.



The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games:

Gifted Children and Video Games:

The Hitman Study:

Kids and Evolution:

About This Post

February 2, 2013 - 8:00 am

Gaming, Opinion