Can there be an upside to video games apart from the high adrenaline that comes from the insane need to beat your own score or get to the next level? While parents conventionally look for value in educational games, is it possible to find any kind of educational value in a video game?
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Surprisingly the answer to both questions is YES.
What can a video game teach a child?
Video games, whether hand held, console or computer,act as a brain gym and can give an effective mind-workout. These games demand a level of thinking that traditional education cannot teach children as easily. At the start of a game, a child takes in all the elements on the screen and tries to work out what needs to be done by breaking down the instructions. The player is constantly using hand-eye coordination, sometimes at very fast speeds. Think about games where a shot has to be fired exactly when the moving target is at a certain point - you need more than just luck to hit that. Without making complicated speed, distance and time calculations, a child uses visual-spatial ability and a great deal of perfect hand eye coordination and multitasking to ace that shot with absolute ease.
As the games and higher levels get more complicated, the player has to learn how to manage unforeseen obstructions and changing variables to reach the end objective. Kids have to think fast and act even faster whether that means changing strategy, making quick analysis and reaching decisions. It is fascinating how quickly children learn to recognize inherent patterns in games and work out the logical way of solving them.
Take the maddeningly popular Angry Birds for example. The simplicity of the game is deceptive, as it requires a fair amount of visual-spatial ability to launch the bird along the right orbit. When the first try does not smash enough pigs, a player will try again and again, logically working out the path that gets the most devastating results. Each progress up another level is a happy success that releases endorphins into the system, making you want to go on and on playing. Even the simplest game is designed to recognise accomplishment by the youngest players.
There's a flip side too . . .
As with everything else in life, gaming too has to be done in moderation. Most of the negative effects of video games are due to over indulgence in them. Video games are broadly looked on as time wasters and there is certainly no arguing that fact. For all the reasons discussed above, video games become rather addictive andif not controlled in time this addiction can increase a child's anxiety levels, leading to other issues such as attention problems. Many parents are apprehensive about the violence and objectionable language contained in some of these games. Practical experience and studies have found that children who are addicted to violent games are likely to behave more aggressively themselves - an obvious impact of watching blasting, shootings and stabbings repeatedly. And it is not just repeated watching of these gory acts, here the children themselves are in control and are in fact running that imaginary world of violence. It is easy for children to confuse reality and fantasy if their time and energy is inclined entirely towards this environment.
Too much game playing will make Jack a dull boy, for sure. Children who play video games endlessly are also likely to have less time for the other important tasks such as schoolwork, reading, sports etc. There is also an obvious bad effect of addictive game playing on children's health, including obesity, postural muscular and skeletal disorders and strained eyesight.
The key is in moderation
Video game playing needs to be monitored the same way as parents monitor television viewing. While playing video games can be a learning experience, children have many other options of entertaining and educational pastimes and need to be encouraged to read, play outdoors and interact with other kids. A popular thumb rule is to allow not more than one to two hours a day of screen time - that includes TV, computer, DVDs and gaming.
Besides time, the content of the games also needs to be monitored carefully. Parents can get a cue from the child's behaviour as to the effect the game has on him or her. Almost all games have ratings clearly mentioned on their covers and are reviewed on the internet by other parents too. Check on the content of any game you find disturbing and explain to the kids why it is unacceptable. If possible, influence the choice of games in favour of ones that require the player to use the positive skills we talked of earlier, rather than those that involve unnecessary violence.
It doesn't start and stop at children - many adults also find video games so engaging that they can't stop playing them. If that is the scenario in your household, the solution to monitoring game time is right there, in front of you. Gaming together can be a lot of fun, a de-stressor and a great bonding opportunity, with far more control in the parent's hands.