Risk-taking, problem-solving, and decision-making: these are just a few of the benefits video games can have for your children. While there are unquestionable downsides, you would be surprised what skills can be enhanced on virtual playgrounds. So why are video games so often labelled as a time-wasting activity? Let’s focus on the bright side.
Driven by more than 3 billion gamers across the globe, the gaming market is among the fastest-growing economic sectors. According to Mihai Vicol, an analyst focusing on emerging trends in gaming, one reason this ever-changing industry is doing so well is the need for personal expression and identity. Players tend to leave the “real world” for a while and create their dream characters. However, in the past two years, these avatars have turned out to be much more than a digital code. They became a ticket for children to experience something special – on their own or with other kids who share the same passion. Playing games is not merely about having fun and enjoying yourself but also about experimenting and pushing the boundaries of creativity. “The game environment is a context where a person may experience and get to know themselves,” says psychologist Jarmila Tomková.
Online games can be a sanctuary for children who struggle to make friends and fit in. A gaming environment assists them in overcoming that fear of meeting new people and offers a space to enjoy one another’s company. Video games can also help children affected by autism spectrum disorders by offering motivation for focused attention and shared peer interest. Gaming buddies discover valuable lessons that can be relevant and life-changing, both within the storyline and in real life outside the game. The same goes for their new friendships. “Even though the gaming environment is virtual, what a person experiences thanks to these stimuli is real, not virtual,” Jarmila Tomková says. “This environment offers aspects of identity to be explored, lived and accompanied by real emotions and are included into a person’s self-concept and self-agency, such as a person might otherwise not be able to experience, realise and include. This is a major benefit for all kids, especially those otherwise limited.”
Sometimes, it takes two.
There is more to multiplayer games than it seems. They can assist you in deepening the relationship between you and your kids. Last year’s masterpiece called It Takes Two is a perfect example of a cooperative family adventure that you can only experience together with another person. An original story overflowing with ideas shows just how important teamwork truly is. Multiplayer and cooperative video games epitomise that there is no “I” in team. Working as part of a group is essential to succeed in school and hobbies. Like basketball, these games are always played as a team sport, requiring children to work collaboratively to achieve mutual goals. Moreover, every team needs a captain. The 2013 studies by Management Research Group have shown a correlation between video games and improved leadership skills and effectiveness.
Some of the most popular online games, including League of Legends, encourage players to think carefully, analyse their strategy and make quick decisions. The hasty tempo of games such as these offers a platform to expand critical thinking and decision-making ability. Taking that leap of faith to overcome a particular problem can be applied not only on a gaming console but also in many areas of everyday life. It’s no surprise that eSports businesses continue to be integrated into popular culture and that some of the best players in the world are making more money than professional athletes. Teams of gamers compete in international tournaments that are followed by millions of viewers all around the world. This shows that these days gaming means much more than just playing.
Taking consequences into account
Open-world video games, such as The Legend of Zelda series, can also benefit a child. This type of gaming is a beautiful way to experience a complex adventure. Players are given innumerable options as they experience and explore the game. They don’t have to follow the main storyline; it is up to them individually to choose their own path. Not only do children learn just how flexible a game can be, but also navigating the virtual map tests their visual-spatial skills. The well-told story, set in a beautiful universe brimming with life, makes players think twice about their choices as the consequences impact the rest of their journey. Additionally, they become curious and co-create the story on their own. “Kids not only play and experience but also explore the role of competent co-creator; this offers a unique chance for a safe mode of training life skills applicable within day-to-day reality,” says psychologist Jarmila Tomková.
A virtual playground with friends
There are so many lessons to be learnt by playing an original video game that requires players to build their own ‘world’ and create their approach to the play. This is not only a pathway to fascinating worlds but also an opportunity to train your creativity and come up with a whole cosmos on your own. Take Minecraft, for instance, an easy-going Swedish game played by more than 140 million children and adults worldwide. It offers an exciting virtual playground to amplify “out of the box” thinking and foster creative freedom. A study by Matthew Barr from the University of Glasgow shows that commercial video games such as Minecraft and Portal 2 can positively affect resourcefulness, adaptability, and communication skills.
There is no doubt that excessive playing also represents a danger to children. Frequent outbursts of rage and mood swings can result from spending too much time with a controller in their hands. As with any other enjoyable activity, video games increase the dopamine levels in the human brain and can, in extreme cases, evolve into a form of addiction. But when approached and played responsibly, video games can also offer tremendous benefits for children. It doesn’t matter if that game that your kid loves is categorised as role-playing, action-adventure, or educational – it has the great potential to teach them ingenuity, empathy, conscientiousness and much more.