This blog post was originally posted on Elephant Journal in 2012 here. Currently, working on a new updated response to this.
At some point most parents with the question of video games and kids. As a lifelong gamer and technology evangelist, sharing games with my kids is an amazing experience. It started when Alex and I drove 30 minutes to score a Wii one early Sunday morning and has accelerated with the growth of gaming on the iPad/iPod/iPhone. We play games as a family and equally enjoy hanging out while we all indulge in our own “screen time.” Video games are truly state of the art when it comes to technology, the current gaming experience is simply amazing, I am not sure we understood what was possible when we started playing Pong decades ago.
Over the last few months I have been thinking a lot about success, what does it look like and how do we achieve it. This evolved into a conversation with Alex, at eight and a half years old he contributed some of the more brilliant ideas below. My friend Kim’s son submitted a long list of reasons the family would be better if he got a new gaming system for Christmas (this article would have been a great resource for him). I laughed when I read his powerpoint, it was brilliant! If you want your kids to compete in this quickly evolving world, video games will jump start their education and empower them to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Why do we want our kids to play video games?
- Dexterity. When I was a kid we played Atari and Coleco Vision, basically a joystick and a button. Today kids are using touch screens and motion controllers, these force them to move and think in dimension instead of up, down, side to side and fire. Whether it is touching the screen or moving the device, games today make your fingers move faster, improving dexterity. Repetitive behavior, such as playing the same game with the same physical engagement frees our brain to relax, much the same way meditation does. Too much of anything is dangerous, when Alex has been playing video games too long he becomes grouchy and impatient. Just as you can get carpal tunnel syndrome from computing too much, you can hurt your thumbs playing Words With Friends or NBA Jams excessively.
- Reading Comprehension. Whether it is stats in sport games or dialog in an adventure game. I believe the secret to reading is to enjoy what you are reading. When I pick up reading comprehension workbooks, my stomach churns. Those books do not inspire kids to stay up late and finish the next chapter in their book, however reading the The Legend of Zelda or The Adventures of Rayman will teach your kids to read and motivate them to learn at the same time. My daughter can not read thru the levels of Rayman, I can either tell her not to play or help her read thru the levels until she can read them herself. Is this painful for me? A little, but as long as I keep it fun for her she will become a great reader (more likely from reading great children’s books, but the gaming can only help). If you are not a native English speaker, video games are a great way to improve your language acquisition!
- Improved Sight. Your eyes are a muscle, the complex graphics and rapid movements will strengthen these muscles potentially improving your eye sight. Colors, dimensions and depth change rapidly causing your eyes to focus frequently, strengthen your eye muscles – your brain can process more information than we know. There have been scientific studies done in this area with positive results. Run your own study by playing some games and seeing how long it takes for your eyes to become tired. Do this for a week and you will find you can play longer and you will be better at the games!
- Problem solving skills. Finishing a video game requires great problem solving skills. Each level requires unique solutions to pass, whether you are searching for a secret door or figuring out what combinations of moves will destroy the huge monster blocking your path. From issue spotting (I need to get thru that ring of fire to get to the next level) to creative solutions (I’ll jump on that platform moving towards the ring of fire so I can leap thru the burning ring) to time management (I have 3 minutes to complete this level), kids today are learning critical skills that will enable them to be great problem solvers.
- Analytical skills. Evaluating what is the best way to score the most points or how to finish the level the fastest teaches kids analytical thinking. Whether it is figuring out what combination of car, tires and engine are ideal in Need For Speed or which bonus to use in Bejeweled, their is strategy involved in every choice. Video gaming teaches kids to look at a situation and develop a strategy that will lead to a positive outcome. Once a strategy has been developed (if you are playing for points in Ms.Pacman, when you eat a power up you will time it so the Ghosts are close and you can eat 3-4 of them), the execution is easy and only limited by practice and a little bit of luck (yes, you were lucky when you barely caught the 4th Ghost for 1600 points). Kids will use their analytical skills they develop gaming on the basketball court and in the classroom at school.
- Decision Making. In life we make a lot of decisions, little decisions such as what sugar we buy to huge decisions such as where we live and what school our kids go to. In video games you learn to make decisions quickly, whether it is in your choice of weapon or whether to cross the bridge or not. Practice makes you a better decision maker and video games let you practice without real world consequences, learning to deal with failure and success are accelerated creating the ability to understand risk and reward with confidence. In yoga we are constantly pushing our bodies to “find a new edge” or get into that running man or side crow, the decision to use ease and grace in your practice instead of brute force may be the difference between a great class and a lingering injury. I am not saying you will prevent injuries on your yoga mat because you play video games, but rather better decision making skills due to playing video games may help reduce your physical injuries on the mat.
- Math Skills. Math is an important skill that our schools are failing at teaching. Whether you are letting your 5 year old play a basic math game on the iPod or you are calculating how many boosts you need to get to the next level or you are analyzing angle and velocity necessary to topple the building and destroy the fat green pigs in Angry Birds, developing math skills is not an accident. Did you ever play Tank? Learning how to use angles of reflection can be fun! Video games make math normal and fun, rather than a miserable experience in memorization. Some of the highest level thinking in math requires abstract thinking and experimentation (Tetris anybody?). Video games teach us to think outside of the box and to try various combinations until we unlock the right match. If kids knew that math could be as fun as video games we’d have more mathematicians in society.
- Practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall the violinist asked the cab driver, practice practice practice he responded! Video games reinforce the concept of practice will improve performance, you know this from your yoga practice! We tell our kids, practice writing your letters and your handwriting will get better or practice writing your essays before taking the test and you will score higher. When we practice yoga, we acknowledge the growth and change that comes from our commitment to breath, body and soul – this growth comes from consistently practicing over an extended period of time. More kids have learned the value of practice from playing Super Mario Brothers than we care to acknowledge, but it isn’t easy to beat level one without practicing (when you will have to jump on mushrooms in life I am not sure). Video games and practice go hand and hand, make it easy for your kids to understand the value of practice…encourage them to play video games!
- Failure. Handling success can be difficult, nobody likes it when you dunk the ball and pump your fist and shout “In Your Face!” – whether it is in the video game or the boardroom after closing a deal. However, learning how to handle failure is critical to success. When a stock you’ve bought sinks 20% in 3 days or the magazine you publish becomes to expensive to print, how you handle failure is a skill you can learn. It didn’t take you many quarters to learn how to adapt to failure in Ms.Pacman, nor does it take kids long to handle defeat in Madden Football. Whether it is creative problem solving, analysis or simply practice, learning how to fail in video games is making the next generation of kids valuable resources we will need to succeed. Adaptation is a combination of nature and nurture, video games teach these skills to kids quickly and easily.
- Socialization. Gaming has always been a social experience, whether it is old ladies playing Mah Jong or Poker Night, or the kids are taking turns playing the Wii (Just Dance?) or you are playing with your friends in different countries on the PS3 or you are playing Words With Friends on your iPhone against your Facebook friends. Gaming is a social experience and a great way to get to know your friends better. It may simply be the shared experience of playing, giving advice on how to play a game or “talking shit” during the game. We should encourage our kids to play games for many of the same reasons we send them to school, we want them to be social. When we teach someone how to play a game we learn to communicate and participate in a process, sometimes with people and sometimes alone – this sharing of experience and knowledge will extend into every aspect of our kids academic and eventually professional experiences.
Last but not least, playing video games is a lot of fun! Life is hard enough, if you can find release and joy in playing video games…enjoy it! Watch the games your kids play and discuss the games with your kids, you will see how their brains are working and help them understand what they are doing. Maybe next time they will take an interest in your life and what you are doing! Games are an easy way to bond and connect – whether it is family, old friends or new friends. Share this article and tell me what game you are playing today!!!