Games and gaming have been an integral part of human culture and child development since before recorded history. Indeed, playing games cam be profoundly important events in developing critical thinking and interpersonal interaction skills. Digital technology has afforded us a significant expansion of the different ways in which we can play games, and with that comes a new set of factors to consider.
Researchers from the American Psychological Association (APA) have identified four major positive neurocognitive benefits for children who play electronic games: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social. The lattermost of these is particularly strong among children who play multiplayer online games, according to the Online Gaming and Youth Cultural Perceptions survey, allowing students to develop strong prosocial relationships with peers both online and offline, and tending to have slightly more favorable attitudes toward and perceptions of those from other countries and cultures. We know from a variety of studies that for a variety of age levels including adults, playing reflex and action-oriented games – even first-person-shooter (FPS) games – can enhance learning capabilities and performance in complex and critical tasks, such as surgery.
(It is important to note that study after study has found that there is no causal relationship between violent video games and real-world violence, though there are studies that have shown that prolonged exposure to violent or objectifying (for example, sexist) media content can reduce empathy and increase risk of inhumane thinking. In short, it is a complex and nuanced field of study that cannot be oversimplified to a mere maxim.)
That having been said, when dealing with children, developmental and neurocognitive appropriateness is a critical consideration.
When it comes to using games in education – often called “game-based learning” or GBL, which is different from “gamification,” which is the introduction of game-based elements into non-game-based pedagogy – Discovery Elementary School teachers collaborate with the educational technology administrator and the various coaches on our leadership team to carefully review and design learning opportunities around meaningful, positive-content games.
Outside of school, consider playing games with or along side your children. Not only will it give you insight into the content, but it will allow you to point out analogies outside of the game that may spur discovery, exploration, and discussion. For example, the realtime in-browser game mope.io (learn more about it here), which is outrageously popular with Discovery students in 2017, involves evolving and consuming other on-screen “animal” avatars. The iconography is basic and geometric, and no actual violence is portrayed. The idea of identifying and collecting resources to achieve a specific goal, and the relationships between different avatars, may be a useful analogy in any number of conversations, be it teaching about saving allowance or a natural life-cycle or even how to draw animals!
Parents who play the games their children do, with their children, are 300% more likely to understand and be able to mitigate the impacts of those games on their children’s development, according to researchers from Oxford. By helping to eliminate bias and understand first-hand the experience of the games your children play, the best way to learn is to play them yourself… ideally with your children!
In situations in which content is objectionable to you, consider revisiting your Family Media Plan, to see if the content is expressly addressed, and have meaningful, engaged, mutual conversations with your children to address those plan deficits if you identify them, so that everybody knows “the rules of the road” and can remain oriented and clear.