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We debate the pros and cons of video games and to what extent kids should play them. We discuss the effects of violent video games and gaming as an education tool
Should kids play video games?
Electronic games or video games involve human interaction with a computer monitor or a TV screen. The popularity of video games has reached unprecedented levels. In 2015, the video game industry generated $74 billion in revenues worldwide. In the UK, 8 to 15 year-old gamers spend in average 20 hours a week playing video games either on PC, consoles, tablets or smartphones. Video games have evolved enormously since the first video games such as Atari's Pong and Taito's Space Invaders. Video games today are much more complex and require greater attention and intellectual engagement from the player.
Since they have become a central element of children's and adults' lives we need to understand better the pros and cons of video games and their potential positive and negative effects on our children. On one hand they help develop not only psychomotor skills but also other intellectual abilities. Many educators are starting to use games to teaching and learning tools. However, many parents are sceptical and fear the effects of video games on kids' development. They are not sure if they should or not let their kids play video games or for how long. Here we outline the main benefits and dangers liked to gaming and open the debate so you can share your thoughts and experiences with us on the discussion forum below.
Pros and cons of video games
Pros of video games
Playing video games has many benefits for the player.
- Learning: video games can help children learn math, spelling, manage resources, understand problems of the world, learn about animals and countries, etc. There are many educational games meant to contribute to our kids development. Through video games educators and parents can get the attention of the children and help them to supplement what they learn in class. Some studies also show that games are a good way to mitigate the effects of dyslexia.
- Problem-solving: there is a growing body of academic literature on the benefits of game-based learning. The potential of games as a teaching and learning tool is an evident opportunity. Video games do not have to be "educational" to help children and adults to develop some problem-solving skills. A variety of studies have shown that playing video games help exercising some mental abilities. They often face also puzzles and problems which become gradually tougher during games, helping the player to understand the logic behind these problems and learn how to solve them.
- Decision-making: video game players face often difficult decisions. Role-play games and graphic adventure games in particular force players to make tough choices, often involving a cost benefit analysis and ethics. Would you save that person if that means a potential danger for the entire realm?
- Memory: Players need to memorize the movements of their characters and their opponents, where things appear on screen, how to avoid dangers, etc. All that stimulates their memory. For instance, researchers form the University of California, Irvine (UCI) found out that students who played Super Mario 3D World improved their scores on memory test designed to engage the brain's hippocampus.
- Spatial intelligence: Video games enhance children's spatial reasoning. 3D shoot-em-up and sandbox games contribute to developing a sense of orientation, and the ability to visualize three dimensional objects. Games such as Tetris, Portal and Minecraft can be particularly good to practice spatial reasoning and creativity. Spatial intelligence is strongly correlated with mathematical abilities and is extremely valuable in engineering and science occupations.
- History and culture: many video games inspire kids' interesests in history and culture. Video games and movies are often one of the first points of contacts with past cultures and civilizations for many children. Video games such as Age of Empires, Civilization, Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty can push children to become interested and read more about different epochs in history.
- Social interaction: although many people think that video games hinder social life and social skills some studies show the contrary. For instance researchers of North Carolina State University observed more than twenty public gaming events and found out that video gamers spend much time engaged in social behavior online and offline. Gaming did not eliminate social interaction but supplemented it. Moreover, many children make new friends playing video games online or in arcades.
Cons of video games
These are the most commons criticisms or risks associated to video games:
- Violence: do video games cause violence? What are the effects of violent video games? Video games have been accused of glorifying violence. In most games players fight and kill enemies. Children are exposed the extreme levels of fictional violence in video games, such as Grand Theft Auto, Dead Island, and Mortal Kombat. The video game industry has adopted the movie industry parental guidance rating system. However, in practice it is very difficult to prevent children from accessing violent content. Some children may want to imitate the, usually violent, protagonists of games. Not everyone manages to disentangle very clearly what is fiction from what is real life.
- Real-life risks: video games may generate addiction. According to the University of New Mexico, 6 to 15% of all gamers display signs which can be characterized as addiction. Some children develop an excessive and compulsive pattern of use of video games which may interefere with their normal life and negatively affect their psychological development and personality. Moreover, according to a study published in the Psychological Bulletin based on more than 80,000 people, short-term and long-term risks of substance abuse, reckless driving, gambling and risky sexual behavior were more severe the longer they were exposed to video games and other media glorifying these practices.
- Cognitive functions: playing video games may affect the way children use their brain. A study from the University of Montreal shows that playing video games may increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. According to this study on which people have to move in a virtual maze, gamers use navigation strategies which rely on the caudate nucleus to a much greater degree than non gamers. Past research has shown that people who rely on caudate nucleus based strategies have lower functional brain activity in the hypoccampus and increased risk for nurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
- Obesity: a study found out that young gamers burned in average 21 extra calories and hour than non players. However, gamers also consume nearly 80 extra calories and usually spend less time doing other physical activities. The World Health Organization blames video games as one of the main causes of childhood obesity.
- Less time to study: children who spend much time playing video games may not have time to do their homework and chores.
- Social consequences: the lack of social interaction is one of the most commonly argued cons of video games. Playing video games a few hours a week would not have a negative effect in kids behavior. However, obsessive gaming can have long-term social consequences. Isolationsim linked to gaming addictions is usually correlated with social awkwardness, which in term incentivizes futher insulation of the gamer.
What do you think, are video games overall good or bad for children? Do video games cause more violence than other modes of entertainment? Are the new generations smarter or more competent than previous ones, and if so, do video games play an important role on this?
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Pros and cons of video games: Should kids play them?
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