What Children Can Learn from Playing Video Games

Against the advice of my parents, my in-laws, my friends and even at times, my husband, I let my son have free rein to play his video games as long as he wanted. From the time he was about 4 years old until about age 12, when he discovered the guitar, he played about four hours a day.

Did he become overweight? No. Did he perform poorly in school? No. Did it inhibit him socially? Heck, no. Boys from all over the neighborhood stopped by daily to play after school. They’d play video games for a couple of hours and then head outside to run around together for an hour before going home.

He was reading far above his level when he was five and six years old, the result of my reading the text that went along with his favorite role-playing game “Super Mario RPG.” I read it once or twice to him and then he played it again and again. Before I knew it, he was reading.

Scholars have noted that as children strive to beat each level of a game, they must use their cognitive abilities. As they try again and again, they learn about frustration and success. In team games, two children can join together to beat a foe. When the neighborhood boys discovered the game Halo at age 12, they had two X-boxes going in two different rooms of my houseâÂ?¦they had to learn how to connect the two with various cables and wires. I knew how to hook a Sega up to a television, but this was beyond me. Somehow, they figured it out and were thrilled when they were able to play against each other – two teams in two different rooms.

Are the games violent? They can be, although many are not and you can start your kids off with these. The games are rated, which helps parents choose. Unless your child makes a good case for a particular game, stick to those rated “E” for everyone. Often, the games follow a particular hero and have an interesting storyline. Many experts believe the games can help children learn how to appreciate narrative structure and character development years before they might read them in a full-length novel.

Those who truly become video game aficionados by the age of 10 often find themselves interested in learning how to program games or write music for games. This leads them in new challenging directions and sometimes it leads them away from their first love, the game itself.

As I mentioned earlier, social development is affected as well. Children talk about the games at school. Being an expert at a particular game and being able to talk about it might make a shy child feel like they fit in with the crowd in a way they might not have felt before.

Finally, the games can also be an opportunity for parents to interact with their kids. Let’s face it, we don’t always feel like playing yet another game of Go Fish or Monopoly Jr., but who wouldn’t enjoy a spin around the race track playing as Mario, Luigi or Yoshi! Parents today who grew up with Atari or early Nintendo systems can play with their child, helping them through a difficult or particularly frustrating level. It can be a bonding experience.

My son is now a teenager and much more interested in guitar than he is in Halo, but his early interest in video and computer games, gave him a familiarity with electronics and computers that astounds me. I have no doubt he will continue to use these skills throughout his adult life.

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