The Secret Benefits of Video Games

Anyone who has looked up from their computer to discover that they just lost two hours to Farmville or World of Warcraft would like to believe that there is some redeeming value to playing video games. On August 3rd, PBS MediaShift published an article asserting that video games teach our kids a “new literacy”. Even though I am not personally a gamer, I would argue that there are plenty of secret benefits to playing video games.

My husband is a gamer and I can virtually guarantee that my son will also be one in the not too distant future. As hard as it is not to see playing Xbox all afternoon as a waste of time, today’s variety of games offer far more than simple hand-eye coordination exercises. The part of the argument asserted by the PBS MediaShift article that I find most intriguing is that video games offer a chance to take risks and fail without the same consequences as real life. This can encourage a different type of problem solving, based on trying different paths to find a solution, fostering creative thinking and a willingness to take risks. Video games encourage exploration and an understanding that failure is a necessary part of reaching a challenging goal.

While it’s not difficult to argue the merits of a game like BrainAge or Soduku, is anything gained from games like Halo or Call of Duty? One of the hidden benefits of multi-player gaming is that if you create a team and play together, it creates a need to learn to work together and cooperate to reach a common goal. “Massively Multi-Player Online” games like World of Warcraft, often make it impossible to reach certain goals or complete certain quests without working as a team. The dependence on others encourages gamers to learn to cooperate and communicate more effectively with different personalities. I think we can all agree that this is a necessary skill in real life.

While every gamer likely has a favorite genre, I would argue that in order to gain the most benefit from your time spent playing video games it’s important to branch out. Different kinds of games foster different skills, so break out of your rut and try something new. A game like the Sims may teach interpersonal communication, economics, and social consequences. If you prefer, role playing games like Fable involve similar themes. Problem solving games like Portal or Soduku require logic, pattern recognition, and strategy. Action games (like shooters and fighting games) develop accuracy, reflexes and timing.

In 2008, Fordham University released a study reporting that students in grades 5 through 7 improved their cognitive and perceptual skills after playing a new video game. However, just as no early reader could be handed a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird without some guidance, parents can help to ensure that their kids gain from their time spent gaming by getting involved. The PBS MediaShift article recommends that parents participate and play video games so they can communicate with their kids and highlight the beneficial parts of the game. Connect games to books, movies, TV, and real life experiences to encourage kids to link the skills they learn in-game with the outside world. Encourage kids to play with peers to learn how to cooperate and work together toward a common goal, and maybe even learn a different perspective or path to the goal than they’d have experienced alone.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service company for consumers and businesses. Andrea established the company with her husband, Ryan, from a spare room in their home in Redding, Calif., in March 2004. Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight, and Computer Nerds On Call for the Scripps-Howard News Service. To ask your puzzling tech questions email her at nerdchick@callnerds.com.

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