Gaining from Gaming

gainingfromgaming

I recently wrote about “Scary Screens” and my journey towards trusting rather than fearing THE SCREEN!

One form of “screens” seems to cause many parents so much angst, and can often have journalists racing to their editors with an alarmist article ready for release upon the easily-scared, anti-screens public. It is commonly known as gaming, and includes Xbox, Playstation, Wii, Nintendo DS, Computer games and probably other mediums I can’t even think of right now.

Gaming (also known as video gaming, or digital gaming) has come a long, long way since the Parker brothers created Monopoly. And it’s also progressed in cyber leaps and bounds since the first ever “video game” was developed way back in 1947 (bet you didn’t know they’ve been around that long!). And there is certainly very little resemblance to the games my brothers and I used to play on our Atari. Gosh, the excitement of the various line drawing designs of basketball, hockey, table tennis and soccer were almost as exciting back then as Xbox Kinect is today! The sound of the ping and the pong of the little cyber “ball”, and the race to stop that little dot from getting between the gaps in the lines kept us glued to our big old chunky TV set for hours! 🙂

The parents of this current generation (that includes me) grew up in a VERY different reality to the children of today. Marc Prensky first coined the term “digital native” to describe the children who have grown up in the age of digital technologies. Some digital native children will be lucky enough to have “digital immigrants” for parents (those who were born before the existence of digital technology but have adapted to it to some extent later in life). However, it is still common for us to struggle with the degree to which our children seek to embrace and interact with their digital world. It is something we never really experienced as children. The attraction of the screen, and its saturation in our culture, is something we don’t really understand, in spite of the fact that we use computers etc. Our experience with digital technologies is something we’ve adapted to. In contrast, it has been part of our children’s worlds for their entire life.

According to the Interactive Australia 2009 report on the state of gaming in Australian culture, the average age of gamers is now 30. Are these, perhaps, adults who were forbidden or limited as kids, and who are now able to play when and for how long they choose, and so they are reveling in their new freedom?  Or does it simply speak of the fact that gaming is, dare I say it, fascinating and enjoyable? Yes, I can hear the naysayers crying out, “But what about the South Korean couple who got so obsessed by their gaming that they neglected their real baby?” And I will say, there is something more going on there! There was something seriously wrong with this picture, and with the people themselves, to be able to make a choice such as that. It is not the game designers neglecting to feed and care for the baby. It is the parents. Out of the multitude of people who play video games, when there is one case of something going wrong, everyone blames the game. When David Staniforth recently died after a blood clot in the lung, apparently caused by sitting still for too long, it was the video gaming that was the featured issue in the media. The father was actually quoted as saying, “He had probably been on all night, on the computer at his desk, on Facebook or gaming — one or the other.” After that, his son’s friend said Chris felt a pounding in his chest but eventually fell asleep. The next morning, Chris and his friend were going to apply for jobs and Chris collapsed outside the job center.” So it was assumed he spent all night gaming, then fell asleep, then woke “the next morning” (after staying up all night?) and then collapsed and died. If he’d been sitting down for that length of time reading a book, I can’t imagine anyone blaming books for his death! But once they would have. It was once the humble novel that was the target of suspicion and fear mongering. It was said that people who read novels would be day dreamers, and unable to fit in to society. Reading books was not revered in the same way that it is today.

When tennis ace Serena Williams underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot, no one suggested that people should stop playing tennis. When people suffer from the same condition after a long plane flight, no one suggests that plane flights are bad and should be severely limited. Instead, it is recognised that getting up and moving around occasionally, and keeping the blood flowing, will help to prevent this problem.

If gaming is the cause of neglected babies, or deep vein thrombosis, then why aren’t more gamers suffering from these problems? The reality is that many, many people play video games, and they often play for many hours in one session. And the vast majority of them lead happy, productive lives! If they don’t, then instead of blaming the game, perhaps it would be more pertinent to ponder the big picture of their life, and contemplate the possible causes behind why the person is drawn to games, or screens of some kind, to that degree, and to the detriment of their own happiness. Are they unhappy because they’re gaming? Or are they gaming because they’re unhappy?  The people I know who enjoy video games play them simply because they… enjoy them! And they do not neglect other areas of their lives.

Researchers are beginning to realise some of the benefits of video games. Research carried out at Bristol University on 700 children aged from 7-16, showed that children learn a range of strategic thinking and planning skills as well as other valuable learning outcomes, through playing video games. An article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that gaming increases creativity and the ability to pay attention to more than six things at once (coimpared to four with non-gamers). Research Professor, Peter Gray, Ph.D., outlines the many benefits of playing video games in his recent article. The supposed “link” between video games that depict violence, and violence in real life, is now being questioned. And Science Daily reported in September last year that gamers had solved a science problem that had stumped scientists for over a decade. It took the gamers three weeks.

I could write more, but realistically people will usually be able to find evidence to supposedly support almost any theory anyway, so I will simply finish by sharing our family’s experience; what we’ve found to be GREAT about gaming, the ways in which I have seen my children benefit from playing video games.

  • Joy!
  • Social connection (the pleasure of gaming with friends or family IRL or via Xbox Live or Skype)
  • Teamwork
  • Opportunities to practise conflict resolution skills when aforesaid teamwork is lacking! 🙂
  • Problem solving skills
  • Strategic thinking
  • Spatial reasoning (Have you ever tried to navigate a virtual race track at high speed?!)
  • Memorisation (I get so lost when watching them navigate their way around complex worlds)
  • Reading skills (no, it’s not “reading the classics”, but it is culturally relevant contemporary language)
  • Mathematical thinking and calculations
  • Computer programming skills
  • An all-round good time! 🙂

There would be more, if I stopped to think about it. What about you? Have you discovered benefits in addition to the ones I have listed?

Please note that for unschooled kids and teens, gaming usually plays a very different role when compared to school kids. It is one option of many on offer throughout the days and nights of “free time”, whereas school children often use gaming to detox from the hours spent in the school environment. So the two scenarios will tend to look and be very different. I highly recommend this page, if you’d like to learn more about gaming within an unschooling context.

I promise that my next post will not be about screens! But it will certainly be written on one. And read on one too.

Image credit: lhfgraphics / 123RF Stock Photo

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Karen Lee

FAMILY: Married since 1989 (does that make me old?), a full-time Mum since 1993, and unschooling my kids since 2005. On a journey of learning to live free and fully loved as God intended, following Jesus rather than an institution or "religion". Caring for the world and its people as best as I can.