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Video Games Teach Skills

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Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“What it was actually saying is that there are, in fact, benefits to these newer [first-person shooter] games.”

– Dr. Joanne Max, a psychologist

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Most parents don’t see much good in video games: they consume hours of time, provide little exercise, and they’re often violent. But one study published in the journal Current Biology suggests playing action video games helps develop heightened sensitivities that improves a variety of skills. What’s a parent to do?

The games David plays require quick thinking, quick reactions and a stomach for virtual violence, something his mother doesn’t have.

“She’s like they teach me to kill people or something,” says David, 17.

“We don’t know, so you kind of speculate, and when you see violence … you naturally associate it to violent acts,” says his mother, Susan.

While plenty of studies have been conducted on the violence in video games and it’s potential harm, now researchers from the University of Rochester say they have a little good news about kids and video games. Their study showed that experienced players were 30% better than non-players when tested for reaction time, awareness of surroundings and ability to multitask.

“You’re used to doing a whole lot of things at once cause you’ll look at your map, and there’ll be three people and they’ll all be in different places, so you have to deal with all of them,” David says.

Researchers performed their study in computer labs, so there’s no proof that David’s “skill” translates to the real world. But experts say that special awareness and reaction time are some of the same skills used while driving.

“As much as I’m not personally a big fan of single-person shooter games, if it does in fact show that we can improve our scanning skills and our planning skills, then I’ve got to hope that it would perhaps make an adolescent behind a 3,000-4,000 pound machine potentially a safer driver,” says Dr. Joanne Max, a psychologist.

On the other hand, experts say that plenty of other games can likely teach the same skills without the shooting and without the blood.

David’s mother lets him play – as long as he doesn’t overdo it.

“My son’s a good kid, so I didn’t really make a big issue of him playing the games,” Mrs. Neckman says.

What We Need To Know

A study from the University of Rochester in New York suggests that playing video games may be beneficial to children’s development. In four experiments, researchers analyzed for six months subjects who played video games several times a week. They found that these individuals were capable of monitoring more complex visual information more easily than non-gamers. In fact, when the researchers monitored novice players for 10 hours of training on the game Medal of Honor, they found that the gamers improved their visual processing skills. The researchers concluded that the fast-moving action of such games as Spiderman actually pushes players limits, forcing them to juggle a number of varied tasks and thus helping them to develop different aspects of visual attention.

How popular is gaming among children today? The National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) cites the following data concerning children and video games:

  • An estimated 84% of teens are playing video games.
  • Boys average 10 hours a week playing video games.
  • At-risk teenage boys spend 60% more time playing games, and they prefer more violent games than other teens.
  • Only 15% of teens think their parents know about video game ratings, and only 2% say their parents routinely check ratings.
  • Eighteen percent of boys report that their parents would be upset it they knew what video games they were playing.
  • Youth who prefer violent video games are more likely to get into arguments with their teachers and are more likely to get into physical fights, regardless of gender.

What kinds of effects does gaming have on a child? The NIMF cites the following positive and negative aspects of gaming:

Positives:

  • Video game playing introduces children to technology.
  • Games can give practice in following directions.
  • Some games provide practice in problem-solving and logic.
  • Games can provide practice in use of fine motor and spatial skills.
  • Games can provide occasions for adults and children to play together.
  • Users are introduced to information technology.
  • They can serve as therapeutic applications with patients.
  • They provide entertainment.

Negatives:

  • Games could foster social isolation, as they are often played alone.
  • Practicing violent acts may contribute more to aggressive behavior than passive television watching.
  • Women are often portrayed as weaker characters who are helpless.
  • Game environments are often based on plots of violence, aggression and gender bias.
  • Many games only offer an arena of weapons, killings, kicking, stabbing and shooting.
  • Feelings of mastery occur in a world that is not real – a video world.
  • The long-term effect on aggression is unknown.
  • More often, games do not offer action that requires independent thought or creativity.
  • Games can confuse reality and fantasy.
  • In violent games, players must become more violent to win.
As a parent, you must monitor your child’s involvement in gaming. The NIMF offers the following strategy for keeping tabs on your child’s exposure to video games:
  • Limit game playing time – no more than one hour per day is recommended.
  • Play with your child to become familiar with the games.
  • Provide alternative ways for child to spend his or her time.
  • Require that homework and jobs be completed first. Use video game playing as a reward.
  • Do not put a video game set in your child’s room where he or she can shut the door and isolate him or herself.
  • Talk about the content of the games your child plays.

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