Contrary to the idea that gaming makes mush out of your brain, fighting digital enemies can actually enhance the imagination. A recent Michigan State University study showed that aft er being exposed to video games, kids showed more creativity. Linda Jackson, the lead researcher on the project, used the Torrance Test of Creativity with a group of 491 12-year-old children. Aft er playing, kids were asked to draw an “interesting and exciting” picture starting with a curved shape already printed on the page. Th e children were then asked to give it a title and write a story about it. Regardless of gender, race or type of game played, greater video game time meant greater creativity.
My strongest warning to my son is telling him that staring too much at the Nintendo or Wii TV screen is going to impair his vision. It turns out video games may actually sharpen your vision. A 2010 University of Rochester study found that players were able to make out small details within clutter. They could also distinguish shades of gray. “People that played these fast-paced games have better vision, better attention and better cognition,” said Daphne Bavelier, an assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the school. She has led over 20 studies on the subject. According to a University of Toronto study, aft er a 10-hour session of the 2004 version of Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, players showed an increase in focus, according to Jing Feng, the study researcher.
Some video games can also help improve blurred vision in adults who suffer from amblyopia, or “lazy eye.” According to a UC Berkley study, gaming can achieve in 40 hours what eye patches achieved in 120 hours. “Th ese new fi ndings are very encouraging because there are currently no accepted treatments for adults with amblyopia,” said study principal investigator Dr. Dennis Levi, UC Berkeley professor and dean of optometry.
Playing Tetra also benefits patients as well as doctors. If you see your surgeon playing video games before you go under the knife, know that you are in better hands. Researchers with Beth Israel and the National Institute on Media and the Family at Iowa State University tested 33 fellow doctors and found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who didn’t play video games. Gaming not only improves a surgeon’s hand-eye coordination, games like Wii are also beneficial in the rehabilitation of patients. Th e research might even have implications to reverse the negative effects of neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s.
I’ve seen my son sync his Nintendo with up to three other players. I worry that it’s just simultaneous brain-waste. But research says it encourages team effort and individual achievement. Games like Wii and Kinect can actually strengthen family ties when a family plays together.
For those of us who argue that our kids are becoming virtual couch potatoes, the motioncontrol games have started a new revolution, and we now see kids and grownups getting off the couch and moving to the images on the screen. Wii Fit has received the seal of approval from Th e American Heart Association for the physical benefits it provides to those who use it.
I’m not completely wrong in encouraging my son to cut back on his battle with virtual enemies like Bowser. The Journal of Pediatrics found that exceeding two hours a day of gaming produced a 1.5 to 2 times likelihood of attention problems at school, but the research is also encouraging. According to the Entertainment Soft ware Association in the U.S., more than 68 percent of American households play computer video games. Now that gaming is a big part of our popculture, I’m comforted in knowing that experts are taking time to research the eff ects of electronic entertainment on those holding the controls and reporting some positive results. I feel more at ease now when I see my son plopped on the couch, eyes glued to his Nintendo player. I know he is actually getting a mental workout instead of becoming an anti-social zombie.
The standard allowance for children to play video games or watch TV is one to two hours per day, depending on age. Any more than that, and children are looking at potentially facing social struggles due to increased isolation, obesity from lack of movement and other health complications, as well as a decrease in academic achievement to name just a few things.
Th e more time a child spends time alone focusing on video games, the less he interacts with friends and family. Th is also cuts in to other things he could be doing that would increase his quality of life such as reading or socializing. Th e more idle a child is, the more he misses out on opportunities to engage in sports or play outside with friends. Even other indoor games that are not electronic would provide more physical and social stimulation. Other less common health concerns include video-induced seizures and postural, muscular and skeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, nerve compression and carpal tunnel syndrome.
One of the most concerning things is that video games may teach children poor values. Th e line between truth and fiction oft en gets blurred for children when dealing with games and reality. Many games are designed to reward children for violent and vengeful actions. A 2001 content analysis by the research organization Children Now shows that a majority of video games include violence, about half of which would result in serious injuries or death in the “real” world. Th e active participation and reward in these games for completing violent tasks may serve as effective tools for learning behavior. Children who play more violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and decreased pro-social helping, according to a scientific study (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).
In a study of eighth and ninth graders, Douglas A. Gentile of the National Institute on Media and the Family found detrimental effects from both "exposure to violent video game content and amount of video game play." Those effects included increased hostility, an increased likelihood of being involved in fights, increased frequency of arguments with teachers and poorer academic performance. Th is confirms the theory that aggressive games alter the young mind’s view of what is right and wrong.
It’s so easy for parents to use video games as a babysitter, focusing on tasks that are difficult to otherwise complete when dealing with young children. Living hectic lives, we pop in a video game and hustle off , rarely taking much time to observe the course of the game. But parents have an important role to play. Psychologists have found that when parents limit the amount of time – as well as the types – of games their children play, children are less likely to show aggressive behaviors (Anderson et al., under review; Gentile et al., 2004). Research also suggests that active parental involvement in children's media usage – including discussing the inappropriateness of violent solutions to real life conflicts and offering alternative nonviolent solutions – can assuage the negative impact of these games on a child.
The core issue seems to be that children are prone to spending too much time engaging in violent video games at exactly the time they should be learning healthy ways to engage with others developing non-violent conflict resolution. Because these games serve as teachers, it is important to select games with positive messages about peaceful human relationships.
It seems clear that video games are here to stay. Perhaps the best we can hope is that with parental supervision and interaction, as well as selectiveness of the types of games children engage in, certain video games can be integrated as a small and tangential role in an active, healthy childhood.