Little bit o’ history
If you are a parent in this era of information and technology, chances are you have a child who has played, is playing, or will be playing video games. The video game industry is a rapid-growing market that went from having a market volume of $100 million in 1985 to $4 billion in 1990 (Gartner, 2013). How did this industry gain so much ground? Where did it start? Prior to the 1980’s, there were what we may consider rudimentary computer games, commercially sold coin-operated games, and home consoles. Shortly after the North-American Video Game Crash of 1983 –a massive recession that hit the industry– the Nintendo Entertainment System induced a resurgence in popularity that has only continued to grow (Cesarone, 2014). In the years since, the gaming world has expanded and subdivided into numerous categories. There are casual, serious and educational games in mediums ranging from console games to online RPG’s (role playing games) to the most recent and flourishing market of mobile games. In 2013, the worldwide market volume totaled $93 billion (Metrics 2.0, 2007).
So what does this mean for our kids today?
In America, 81% of youths play at least once a month, 8.5% of them are addicted and “the average 8- to 12 year-old now plays 13 hours of video games per week, while the average 13- to 18 year old plays 14 hours of video games per week” (Metrics 2.0, 2 007). Because video games are so prominent in children’s lives, it is difficult to prevent them from playing video games entirely– but is that even necessary? With such a variety of game types out there, it is difficult to say if video games in general are good or bad. Luckily, there have been countless studies done on this and information on the pros and cons can be easily found.
Negatives of Video Games
There are various types of video games available in today’s industry. Video games are intended to target different aspects of a child’s life. These video games are comprised of a variety of educational, serious, and casual games, but in reality, what child is going to choose a game about learning versus a game where they can kill zombies or drive cars at unruly amounts of speed? A study from Buchman and Funk found that “violent games became consistently popular across grades for both boys and girls” (Cesarone, 1998). Educational games were more popular for some of the girls being asked, but throughout all the age groups, violent video games never lost their superior power in the gaming industry.
Studies have shown the negative effects violent video games have on the younger generation. Calvert and Tan did a study on young adults, where they compared the differences between playing versus observing violent video games. Studies found that “students who had played a violent virtual reality game had a higher heart rate, reported more dizziness and nausea, and exhibited more aggressive thoughts in a posttest than those who had played a nonviolent game” (Cesarone, 1998). Although these studies do not directly determine if aggression increases in their experimenters, they are able to observe behavioral changes that include more aggressive patterns.
Another negative aspect of video games is the fact that kids are spending too much time playing the games rather than physically playing outside. From the quote above, it is evident that kids involved with video games are spending 13 and 14 hours a week playing them rather than just an hour here and there. By spending so much time on their game console or on the computer, children are missing out on their social life. Children are less likely to go out and compete in extracurricular activities which inhibit them from meeting new people and making friends. Funk and Buchman did another study on the effects video games have on kids, but in this one, they were testing for self-competence. Results found that “for boys, but not for girls, a stronger preference for each of the three types of violent games was associated with lower self-competence scores in one or more developmentally important areas, including academic, interpersonal, and behavioral skills” (Cesarone, 1998). This finding factors into the idea of taking time away from doing other things for these boys because they are suffering in important factors in life that will allow them to succeed.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the obvious reason why video games are not beneficial to a child’s development, obesity. According to the CDC, in 2009-2010, 12.1 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese, 18 percent of 6 to 11 year olds are obese, and 18.4 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are obese. Now, this is only the percentages of obesity, and does not account for the amount of children who are overweight as well. What is causing this to occur? I can tell you, the amount of time children are now spending playing video games is a factor in that. By spending much of their free time on the computer or on their game console, kids are not going out and participating in activities that will keep them physically fit in healthy. Kids get the lazy mindset and would rather not go play outside.
Benefits of Playing Video Games
Research has shown that playing video games can be beneficial for a number of cognitive functions and may also contain social benefits. The first and foremost thing one discovers in a game is that following directions is of the utmost importance. In order to progress in games, one must first learn to follow the guidelines, restrictions and components of them. As the player confronts new challenges, he must use problem-solving to find solutions. This is true for educational games, mind games, and RPGs alike. The player cannot get through with what they already have or know and must find new combinations and incorporate old skills with new skills to overcome obstacles such as the level or quest (Gee, 2003). In relation to this, the player can also learn strategy and anticipation,management of resources (simulation games), mapping, pattern recognition, how tojudge the situation and practice reading (with directions, dialogue, etc.) and quantitative calculations (through educational games, managing finances, buying and selling for profit, etc. (Tumbokon, 2014).
Gamers also get used tomultitasking. As games become more intricate, players must juggle different objectives while keeping track of all the changing elements and connecting ideas. Games also induce quick thinking. According to cognitive scientist Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester, results of a study found that people who play video games become more attuned to their environment and able to keep visual tabs on friends in crowds, able to navigate better and better at everyday things like driving and reading small print. Playing games also “significantly reduced reaction times without sacrificing accuracy” beyond the context of the games ( Bavelier et al., 2009) and into making correct real-world decisions. Because of this effect on perceptual reaction times, even the U.S. military uses warfare simulation games in training and claims its benefits (Vargas, 2006).
Video games also increase hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and spatial reasoning (Tumbokon, 2014). For example, in shooter games, the player keeps track of their position, direction, speed, aim, results and more. The brain processes all this information and then coordinates with the hands since all actions are done through the controller or keyboard. These skills can be applied to real world situations like surgical procedure (Florida Hospital, 2013).
Finally, gaming is stimulating, a learning experience and a social activity. The reason why people find it so enjoyable is that games are usually the right degree of challenging and the player takes an active role (unlike watching television) so there is an incentive to achieve (Gee, 2003). Let’s also not forget that many games, like “Rise of Nations” or “Age of Mythology” are educational and have a lot to offer in areas like science, politics, history and cultural studies and some games are practical, like pilot-training simulations. The gaming world is very popular. Thus, playing video games has become a social activity. In fact, nearly 60% of frequent gamers play with friends, 33% with siblings and 25% with a spouse or parents. Many games require cooperative play and logistics, comradeship and frequent interactions between team members.
Like so many other issues these days, the concept of video games is controversial. The line between a healthy amount of gaming and an excessive amount is easily blurred and crossed– especially when video games are as addicting as studies claim. As parents, it is prudent to find moderation in all things. Banning games entirely may be good for some households, but others (depending on the prominence of gaming within the environment) will find that it may socially isolate their children, take away a source of joy and possibly cognitive development. However, opening the door to the good, will also allow access to the bad including exposing the children’s minds to the realm of violence, taking their free time away from doing other things, and putting them at risk for obesity. In the end, it is important that the parent monitors what kinds of games children are playing and being exposed to. Part of this job is to know the descriptors and the genres they represent. The Entertainment Software Rating Board has ratings that provide concerned parents information about the content of the games (ESRB, 2014). Efficient use of these ratings can help parents to make more informed choices for their children.