Games: A force for good?

From problem solving to strategic thinking, online gaming can help skills development.

Gone are the days of space invaders. Everyone from toddlers and teens to parents and grandparents are exploring the rich and diverse virtual worlds of gaming. And, played in moderation, it seems gaming isn’t bad for us either. A decade-long study of 11,000 UK children, published in the British Medical Journal, found that playing video games from as young as five years old did NOT lead to behavioural, attention or emotional problems later in life.

Research suggests video games can be a force for good – improving kids’ spatial awareness and problem-solving skills, as well as boosting their creativity and encouraging collaboration. And their potential applications as educational tools are attracting serious interest from schools. Educators recognise that games create engagement, allowing students to absorb more information, faster.

The open-world gaming phenomenon Minecraft, for example, has no obvious goal other than using 3D blocks to build structures. You can build something in Minecraft just like you would with Lego. Gamers have used it to recreate (in painstaking detail!) everything from the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones to Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These games provide kids with opportunities to practice problem-solving, working in teams, as well as honing their spatial awareness.

“”“My son loves games and so do I so sometimes we play together. In a way it is just like going on an adventure together but virtually. He will chat away with me as we decide on where to go and explore, what to open and what we need to do to advance. By being involved with him occasionally in his games I can also see what he is up to, make sure there are no chat rooms linked to the games and he loves that I am interested in what he is doing.” – Hannah

Outside of games consoles, there has also been an explosion in educational apps for smartphones and tablets. These apps enable children to explore and discover with their parents to build crucial numeracy, literacy and creative skills.

If you’ve ever sat down to watch your favourite team or a new movie, only to be told it’s time to go do something else, you’ll have some idea of how tough it can be to be dragged out into the real world in the middle of a gaming session. That’s why agreeing in advance how you’re all going to handle game time is a good idea. You can even make an actual agreement that you can all sign, and refer back to.

Is your child is spending a lot of time gaming? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between healthy enthusiasm and excessive use. But as a general rule, if your child is coping with school, playing sport or other hobbies, has friends, doing their chores, treating you with respect and seems happy and healthy, you probably have the balance about right.
If, however, they seem to put gaming ahead of other aspects of life, and become irritated or anxious when they’re not able to play a game, it might be time to have a chat and set some ground rules before things get out of control.

Here’s Dave from The Parenting Place with some things to look out for if your child is spending a lot of time gaming, with some great tips on encouraging kids to do a range of activities as well as playing games.

Children don’t have to just be consumers of games – they can create them too. By using free programs like Scratch, young people are encouraged to explore creatively and make their own computer games that they can play and share with a global audience. Some schools in NZ are even using Scratch as a way in to discovering careers in the IT world.

As with all technology, games are not the only tool or the only answer. They should be used in moderation, alongside other tools for learning, and with parents or teachers exploring together with the children. Then everyone wins.
If you are worried about time your kids are spending playing games, read our article on setting game time limits

Check out our top game picks for learning and fun.
Do try these at home!

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