Video games’ benefits go beyond fun

If you’ve ever looked up from a computer to discover you’ve just lost two hours to Farmville or World of Warcroft, you might want to believe that playing video games has some redeeming value.

If you’ve ever looked up from a computer to discover you’ve just lost two hours to Farmville or World of Warcroft, you might want to believe that playing video games has some redeeming value.

Though I’m not a gamer, I’d argue that there are plenty of secret benefits.

My husband is a gamer, and my son almost certainly will be in the not-too-distant future.

While it’s hard not to see playing all afternoon with the Xbox as a waste of time, today’s variety of games offer far more than simple hand-eye co-ordination.

In a PBS MediaShift article published Aug. 3, its author — Aran Levasseur, the academic technology co-ordinator at San Francisco University High School — asserted that video games teach our kids a “new literacy.”

The most intriguing part of the argument 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. It can foster creative thinking.

Video games spur 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 Brain Age or Sudoku, is anything gained from multi-player games like Halo or Call of Duty?

A secret benefit is that team play requires working together to reach a common goal. “Massively Multi-Player Online” games such as World of Warcraft often make it impossible to reach certain goals or complete certain quests without teamwork.

The dependence on others encourages gamers to learn to co-operate 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 favourite genre, I would argue that it’s important to branch out to gain the most benefit from time spent playing video games.

Different kinds of games foster different skills. Games 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, such as Portal or Sudoku, require logic, pattern recognition and strategy. Action games — with shooting and fighting — 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 should get involved to help ensure that their kids gain from gaming time.

The MediaShift article recommends that parents participate and play video games so they can communicate with their kids and highlight the games’ beneficial parts.

Connect games to books, movies, TV and real-life experiences to encourage kids to link the skills they learn in gaming with the outside world.

Encourage kids to play with peers to learn how to co-operate and work toward a common goal — and maybe even learn a different perspective or path to the goal than they’d have experienced alone.

Arguing the merits of video games can be pretty controversial in some households.

If you have an opinion you want to share with the world, join our debate on Facebook at facebook.com/nerdsoncall.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea

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