Although lockdown restrictions have been eased, many parents are still choosing to keep their children at home for safety reasons. Consequently, many children have turned to playing video games (also known as ‘gaming’) as a source of entertainment to cope with boredom. And while some parents might argue that it is a waste of time or that violent video games contribute to bad behaviour, others believe that gaming may have a few positive attributes. We take a closer look at whether video games are good, bad, or a combination of both.
Benefits of gaming
Studies have shown that video games have many benefits and that playing games can help children develop high-level cognitive functions like logic and problem-solving. Other benefits include:
- Increasing a child’s concentration and attention span – many children can get easily distracted when asked to sit still for prolonged periods. They often fiddle and fidget with nearby objects and ‘zone out’ quickly. But with gaming, they have an entirely new world to discover. They will pay close attention to the smallest details to ensure they don’t mess up their progress. When they have to restart a level or section of the game, they concentrate even more to ensure they don’t make the same mistake twice.
This is a worthwhile real-life skill – paying attention is a skill they will need throughout their lives. Having to replay certain parts of a game also teaches resilience as children are taught not to give up when they have to attempt a challenge again.
- Teaching problem-solving and effective resource allocation – when playing various games, children are teaching themselves how to manage their ‘resources’ in games like the number of coins they have to spend, the number of bullets they have left to fire, amount of time they have to wait before launching an attack, etc. Managing their resources not only helps children execute the best and most creative outcome in the game but implementing these strategies also teaches them how to budget and save.
- Developing communication and teamwork skills – while playing in ‘multiplayer’ mode, players have to work together to achieve a common goal. They learn how to delegate duties amongst themselves carefully to achieve said goal. Co-operation like this develops both social interaction skills and motivation that can contribute to leadership and managerial roles and collective team efforts when working within an organisation in the future.
- Making learning fun – video games make learning fun. Through animation, an exciting storyline, and interactive challenges, children often don’t even realise that they are learning. Gaming is beneficial when it comes to more difficult subjects such as Mathematics because children use the same logic and analytical thinking to solve problems in games that are used when solving mathematical equations. Having fun while practising their skills will motivate children to keep practising.
Cami Web programs are an excellent example of how learners can have fun while practising their skills. Cami offers parents and learners a 14-day free trial to try their educational programs.
Problems caused by gaming
There’s always a downside to everything, and gaming is not exempt from this. While gaming has many benefits, there are also a few cons that parents must be aware of before allowing their children to play video games. Here are a few factors to consider:
- Poor physical health – When children spend more time being sedentary behind a computer or TV screen, it stands to reason that the lack of physical activity will have an impact on their physical health. In fact, the negative impacts of gaming on physical and mental health are often related. Negative impacts of gaming include:
- impaired sleep,
- poor posture, and
- unhealthy or inappropriate weight gain.
Inadequate sleep has been linked to other cognitive issues like impaired concentration and poor memory retention, both of which are likely to have a negative impact on a learner’s performance at school. Poor posture (hunching over a computer or playing console) can result in musculoskeletal issues like tension headaches and muscle knots. Weight gain from inactivity can be a problem because it can sometimes lead to medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
- Dysfunctional behaviour – Excessive time spent gaming may cause a child to become dependent on the game, which can contribute to dysfunctional behaviour in daily life. Like physical health, an unhealthy amount of time spent gaming can affect a child’s mental health. Too much time spent in solitude playing games can make children dependent on gaming as a source of pleasure and, consequently, they can become irritable or even violent when they are not spending as much time playing as they’d like.
It can be difficult for parents to spot the difference between unhealthy gaming and a healthy enthusiasm for and enjoyment of a game. Some of the symptoms of unhealthy gaming to look out for include:
- bad grades in school,
- negative or non-existent relationships with family and friends,
- a decline in attention to personal hygiene, and
- adverse mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
It’s advisable for parents to be involved in their children’s gaming and to set healthy limits for how much time children are allowed to spend gaming. Parents should also consider balancing time spent gaming with other activities not dependent on technology, such as:
- socialising with friends,
- playing outside,
- participating in sports or cultural activities,
- playing board games, or
- drawing and painting.
- Reinforcing harmful mindsets – The over-representation of male characters is pervasive in video games. Stereotypically masculine behaviour and traits in characters in video games such as aggression and vengeance are praised and earn the player a higher ranking, while other more stereotypically feminine behaviours and traits such as negotiation or forgiveness do not earn players points and are often not even given as playing options for the characters.
Games also rarely have women as main characters. A study carried out by the University of Southern California found that only 10% of playable characters are women. When female characters are represented in games, they are often seen as weaker than male characters or overly sexualised, perpetuating harmful values and ideas about women.
As we have seen, gaming is not just good or bad but a little bit of both. Parents need to do their research to determine which games are suitable for their children while also keeping a watchful eye on the amount of time children spend behind screens.