Video games: Good or bad for you?

It’s a question we should be asking ourselves. We have all seen the headlines and we know how all-consuming gaming can be if it is left unsupervised. However, it is not without its benefit and, if we manage things well, we can help children gain essential skills for life.

First, gaming helps children to experience different scenarios and different decisions, and safely think through how they would act. In this way, gaming works in the same way as reading a book or watching a film. Children experience a situation as the character in the story does, and are led to consider what they would do. Stories have always been a powerful learning tool, and gaming takes this learning further, allowing children to see the different consequences of the different responses to the same dilemma. To make the most of this, we need to be sharing the experience with our children – for more on this, see our article on gaming with your children.

In addition to this exposure to different life decisions, video games can teach our children lots of other useful skills that can transfer to their daily lives. It teaches them to solve problems. Much of the action in gaming, whether you’re playing a puzzle, platform or other game, requires the play to solve problems. This can take in planning, searching for resources, using logic and shuffling many variables to come up with the best path to take. This kind of mental gymnastics sets children up well for real-life situations where they need to assess options to take the best one, or come up with an out-of-the-box solution to a problem. Indeed, some games require the player to piece together lots of these individual decisions into a larger strategy – again, another valuable skill for children to learn as they grow up.

Physically, gaming can help children develop both fine and gross motor skills, depending on the game and console. Playing a game that requires pressing sequences of buttons to make a game character do certain actions requires a high level of coordination with fine motor skills, and this teaches children to use their fingers quickly (and memorise those sequences in the first place!). If children are playing on a Wii or similar console, then they’ll be challenged to acquire coordination with their whole body. Games such as Wii tennis or bowling, Just Dance or Super Mario involve moving around with specific actions (and not wrecking the furniture…).

When you start thinking about it, then the list of potential skills is almost endless: perseverance, accuracy, concentration, recognising patterns, cooperation, improved memory, evaluated risk-taking, reshaping goals to current and future circumstances… For example, through playing Guardians of Ancora, as well as meeting Jesus, children will learn to solve problems, to reflect, to develop fine motor skills, to evaluate information, to develop a sense of social responsibility and more.

There’s no doubt that there are negative things that children can learn, but these come mainly from the content of the game. Violence and horror are the stock in trade of some genres of game, but the same is true of books and films. As parents, carers and other significant adults, we need to be wise about the games our children play, just as we have to be careful about other media children consume. With that need for wisdom in mind, we can help our children develop useful skills for life through gaming.