*Note – this post appears quite popular! I’ve edited it to fix typo’s, and added in more resources. Thank you all for sharing it, I hope it helps some parents relax about gaming.
*Another edit. I added some research that refutes the long-held notion that video game violence translates to violence in real life (and more in 2015!).
In response to a post in a Facebook group, for a Mom who needed to show how learning happens in video games and how they can be beneficial, I started gathering peer-reviewed scientific studies on the benefits of gaming (yeah, I just kinda like doing that stuff!). I knew there were more and more positive articles coming out, but even I was surprised with the sheer volume – at some point soon the positive articles will for sure outweigh the negative fear-mongering articles. You betta believe it!
Video Games foster learning and brain development
Don’t believe me? Well here’s just a few studies I found this morning:
- The impact of video games on training surgeons in the 21st Century (2007). – Summary – ‘Video game skill correlates with laparoscopic surgical skills.’ – so – surgeons who were better gamers, were better surgeons.
- The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control (2008) – Summary – Expert gamers (those who game a lot) were better than non-gamers at a number of tasks, including tracking objects at greater speed, better detecting changes to objects stored in their visual short term memory, switched more quickly from one task to another, and mentally rotated objects more efficiently.
- Playing an action video games reduces gender differences in spatial cognition (2013) – Summary – after playing video games, the gender differences in spatial attention and mental rotation were smaller – women benefitted.
- Positive association of video game playing with left frontal cortex thickness in adolescents (2014) – Summary – Kids who played video games for a longer duration had greater cortical thickness (this is a good thing!) in areas of the brain associated with executive control, strategic planning, the execution of eye movements, and allocation of visuo-spatial attention.
And here’s a video about some of that research (which also touches on whether video game violence causes real life violence and/or desensitization – *see below also)… http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-cycle/50412970/#50412970
Ok. So you’re convinced that playing video games can lead to positive changes in brain development – basically quicker reflexes, better spatial awareness and processing, and problem solving skills…..
Video game violence doesn’t translate to real life violence
I didn’t cover this in my initial post, only very briefly with the video above, and some of the commenters have brought up this aspect of gaming. There are a lot of studies that seem to purport that video games make kids violent in real life – but – as with learning and video games, the tide is turning, and more and more articles are finding no link with video game violence and real life violence…
1. Causal or spurious: Using propensity score matching to detangle the relationship between violent video games and violent behavior (2012) Summary – This study questions the methodology that has been used in previous studies that have linked gaming violence to real life violence, and concludes that strength of evidence supporting a relationship has likely been overestimated.
2. A longitudinal test of video game violence inﬂuences on dating and aggression: A 3-year longitudinal study of adolescents (2011) – Summary – this study followed 165 kids over 3 years. It found ‘ exposure to video game violence was not related to any of the negative outcomes.’ Instead, ‘Depression, antisocial personality traits, exposure to family violence and peer inﬂuences were the best predictors of aggression-related outcomes.’ And the authors summarise that their study supports a growing body of others that show video game violence does not affect youth aggression.
3. A Plea for Caution: Violent Video Games, the Supreme Court, and the Role of Science (2011) This one is really interesting – Summary – the authors review the evidence for both sides of the arguments on video games – and find that the evidence supporting a relationship is generally spurious. They also compare the current arguments on video games to very similar arguments against comic books in the 1950’s. This is a popular article, with links to research, refuting the idea that gaming can lead to rape.
An article new in 2015: Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It depends on what you look at and when. Journal of Communication. Summarises ‘Videogame consumption is associated with a decline in youth violence rates. Results suggest that societal consumption of media violence is not predictive of increased societal violence rates.’
The author of the above article – Dr Christopher Fergurson, is at Stetson University, a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with youth offenders – his page has lots of great links to read.
Video games increase hand-eye coordination and can improve eyesight
But you’re still worried, right? What about damage to their eyes?? Well, I hate to dispel your fears (actually, no, I love dispelling your fears!)….but….gamers have better eyesight too….
Video games can burn calories, and there is no real evidence they contribute to make kids fatter!
What about inactivity? If they game all day, they’ll be fat and unfit – right? It took me a while to search out some articles on this. There were plenty of the usual scare-mongering popular articles with quotes from ‘experts’, but real ‘science’ was harder to root out!
Our own experience is that, when they have the room to do so, kids are jumping around like crazy when they are playing games on the Wii, Xbox, PS3, etc. Though this isn’t necessarily true of computer use, as they are sitting for that….
But – I did find this study: Summary – playing video games resulted in increases in various metabolic parameters like heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption. That study linked to a few others with similar results.
This one (which is ooooolllldd!) finds playing ‘Ms Pac Man’ (!!) causes similar physiologic responses to mild-intensity exercise.
While this study compares traditional ‘sedentary’ games with Kinect games like boxing and dance. The Kinect games increased activity levels to equivalent burning 172 calories/hour more than sedentary games.
I guess that’s not surprising if the sedentary games really are ‘sedentary’, which is not the case in our experience at all – i’m pretty sure Kai would burn that many calories playing Kirby’s Adventures!
Similarly it was hard to find scientific papers addressing the concern that gamers are ‘fatter’ than non-gamers. Intuitively I doubted that was true. There are a lot more factors at play in obesity rates than gaming (kind of like the ‘pie’ the woman talks about in the video above)…..and my avid gamer is the polar opposite of obese – we can barely keep weight on him at the moment! One could just as easily say that avid book readers are at risk of obesity, because they are sedentary (more sedentary than a gamer, even on a laptop, I’d wager)….you get my drift!
I did find a study saying ADULT gamers are fatter and depressed, but that is in no way applicable to gaming unschooled kids. On further searching – I did manage to find an old study from 1999 that concludes that TV viewing, but not VCR or video gaming, is associated with obesity in Mexican children.
For one thing – VCR is TV viewing, essentially. So – what the!? And pretty sure those kids aren’t unschooled. Still – it finds no relationship between video games and obesity. I found another, from 2004 – which concludes ‘inactivity may be unfairly implicated in recent epidemiologic trends of overweight and obesity’ and says ‘Relationships between sedentary behavior and health are unlikely to be explained using single markers of inactivity, such as TV viewing or video/computer game use.’ So. No scientific evidence that video games are related to obesity or kids being overweight, and playing video games can actually be equivalent to mild to moderate exercise.
Gamers aren’t weird loners!
Related tangentially to the myth that gamers are fat and sedentary, is the myth that they are also anti-social loners stuck in a basement and have no friends. Sorry to disappoint, but nope!
This recent study (2014) finds the opposite. Gamers who played online, in MMOG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) like World of Warcraft were in fact very social, and gaming enhanced their social lives.
One of the researchers is quoted here (and I recommend reading that article, as the actual paper is really hard going!) as saying: ‘Gamers aren’t the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes, they’re highly social people. This won’t be a surprise to the gaming community, but it’s worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm.”
Of course it’s not a surprise to those of us who embrace gaming. One night here, Kai was Skype/playing Minecraft and Animal Jam with three friends – one in Sydney, one in Arkansas USA and one in England! We’ve made loads of friends through gaming, and even when Kai’s in his room ‘alone’, he’s most often skyping with friends, and thus actually not ‘alone’ at all – but learning new negotiating skills, social skills and cooperating skills. So, you believe gamers aren’t weirdo anti-social loners, but actually highly social, functioning human beings….
Video games are not ‘addictive’, y’all!
But what about addiction – they’ll become addicted!? *Sigh* the ‘addiction’ label. I’m sure we’ve all heard and/or seen people say/write that their kid is ‘addicted’ to video games/iPad/’screens’ etc.
I think, maybe, when people say that, they are just parroting things they’ve heard, and not really actually considering the weight of their words. OF COURSE video games aren’t addicting! Seriously! You can’t compare enjoying playing video games with being addicted to a substance like heroin, or alcohol, or whatever! That is crazy!
Articles like this one, and this one are also all over the internet, freaking out parents and fuelling fears about ‘screen’ addiction. Really, if you want to find more to fuel your fears and doubts, I can’t stop you. BUT! Despite these tabloid, fear-mongering articles, the ‘experts’ disagree – Here…and here – and this is another link leading from the second.
These articles all point to there being no such thing as gaming ‘addiction’. They do however talk about ‘compulsive gaming’ (they don’t define that – I assume gaming at the exclusion of most other things?) being due to pressures from school and/or lack of parental input (the ‘pie’ again, with many factors contributing…).
Neither of those things is relevant to unschooled kids, with parental facilitation and input, who have a whole world of activities to choose from. Stressed school kids are choosing video games (or TV) to escape. Unschooled kids are choosing video games (or TV) because they love them, out of a whole host of other options.
Colleen Prieto recently wrote something wonderful about addiction. The discussion was about food, but the comment relates to video game ‘addiction’ also (I added ‘video game’ in square brackets where it could be substituted for the food idea):
“There are people who steal and lie and hurt other people in order to get money for alcohol and for drugs. There are people who commit crimes in order to feed their very real addiction to cocaine, or vodka, or meth. I have never known of anyone who has committed a crime to feed an addiction to soda, or Twizzlers, or MSG-laden barbecue-flavored potato chips (VIDEO GAMES). I have never heard of a parent who is sick with worry because they do not know where their chip-eating, Pepsi-drinking (VIDEO GAME PLAYING) child is, discovering only later that he had fallen asleep in a park, high on sugar and food-chemicals (VIDEO GAMING). I have never heard of parents getting phone calls because their child is in the hospital after crashing his car while high on red food dye (VIDEO GAMES).’ Colleen went on later to actually talk about video games… ‘It’s sort of like the idea of being addicted to video games – or other such things that just aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, similar to drugs and alcohol in the effect they truly have on people. Saying a teenager is “Addicted to video games” somehow sounds better to some folks than saying that their particular child really would rather sit inside on the couch by himself playing Tetris or World of Warcraft or such, and the child would really rather *not* go outside and wander the woods or go hang out with other kids or with their neighbors. But is there anything really wrong with a child who prefers to be inside and by himself?’
There was more discussion, essentially about the fact that parents use the ‘addiction’ word to make them feel better about their ‘having to’ limit gaming…. Video games aren’t addicting. Full stop. (or, Period, if you are North American!).
Video games don’t change your kids behaviour, y’all!
People new to unschooling, or having problems letting go of their fears of gaming and TV often say that if they let their kids have unlimited access they get frustrated, angry, argumentative, blah blah blah. Here’s a fact. Video games don’t have magical powers. They can’t control people or behaviour.
Kids get frustrated at video games for sure. If they are stuck on a level, if they are losing. Kai gets just as frustrated if he’s losing at Junior Monopoly or chess! As facilitating parents it’s up to us to help them through that – in our house that means maybe finding a walk-through, so Kai can watch someone go through the level. Or I might suggest he leaves the game for a while if it’s frustrating (he may or may not choose to do that – sometimes just reminding him that’s an option is enough).
Here’s another fact. If you try, subtly or not so subtly, to get your kid away from his computer game he’s in the middle of, or a TV show she is watching, they are going to get pissed off at you. It’s not the game making them pissed off and angry, nor the TV show. It’s you. You are asking them to quit an activity before they are done. While they are in the middle of it. If you were in the middle of a chapter of a great book, totally into it, and someone told you to put it down because you needed to get some ‘outside time’ – would you be pissed off? Just think about that….
*Final note – for those parents who really want to learn more about video games and learning, and support their children’s passions, there is a FREE course available on Coursera. The actual course is done, but all the learning materials are still available to download. I hope to have enough time to get through it after I finish a pile of work! Thanks to Alex for pointing me to it. Go here to find it, and have fun learning about learning!