Friday, April 02, 2010

Are computer games bad for your kids?

Have you ever sensed anyone think "Computer games are bad for your kids". Computer games so often seem to be thrown in with the TV as a tool to make them stupid. Since our kids play computer games I decided to find out more. Ok, I admit that we're a bit different to most parents around here, my wife and I have always played computer games and our kids aren't yet at the age where we feel that they can decide what games to play. We know the games they play and either review the game ourselves or we teach the game to our kids. It's changing a now that they're getting a bit older but the principle remains the same and we've all grown through this experience. I'm writing a two part article and in part 2 I talk about my son and World of Warcraft (WOW)".

I looked at some of the literature, especially the research into gaming. The references (bottom) refer you to some, although on the whole the results are mostly supportive of gaming, with some reservations.

Some parts of some computer games are potentially harmful. Sound effects such as zapping noises can occasionally induce epileptic fits. It's a form of a condition called Photosensitive Epilepsy and usually stimulated by TV. It's relatively rare, occurs at one in three and a half thousand. It's more common in girls than boys, about sixty to forty; different from epilepsy, which is slightly more males than females. Most commonly occurs around puberty.

Dumbing games are also considered unhealthy especially for teenagers. I'm not exactly sure how to define a dumbing game, I guess that some of the arcade games of my youth could be considered dumbing. Some adults turn to midnight gaming looking for brain numbing stimulation, and I'm not sure that I agree with those that flippantly remark this may help the onset of Alzheimers. If you can think of a game that you think could do this, please leave a comment.

Whilst the older literature proves that there are some (identifiable) harmful effects of gaming, most of the more current research is showing the benefits of (modern) gaming. This is not to say that play outside with other children and physical interaction and to face to face communications should not be encouraged as much as possible. I agree that this is how they develop, train and retain their creativity and become good people. I also believe that computers can be used as a tool - together with appropriate applications - to enhance the physical activities that a child has in the 21st century.

Some of the potentially positive outcomes the research on computer gaming shows that the gamers:
  • Develop Motor and Cognitive Skills: Computer games can help to develop "motor and cognitive skills" (BBC News: 2006)

  • Social Element and tram-work: Computer games allow social interaction between social groups and individuals. Some games can be played as a multi-player game; this inspires individuals to work as a part of a team as well as gain communication skills. Playing a game with friends or a partner encourages communication between the group/individuals

  • Children learn through play: Children learn through play and computer games can help create imaginative play scenarios for them. Computer games can that involve imaginative worlds for a child's imagination to escape to, can encourage imaginative play. It goes well beyond imagination, they develop skills in reading, math and problem-solving. They use and develop upon previous knowledge, a valued process in the workplace and school.

  • Self-esteem and confidence: Children are made to feel comfortable with technology—particularly important for girls, who don't use technology as much as boys. As they master games they increase and master personal self-confidence and self-esteem.

  • Hand-eye co-ordination: Computer games can be attributed to improving the co-ordination between eyes and hands

  • Release built up aggression: "catharsis theory and drive reduction... suggest that aggressive play can also have a relaxing effect on the user and be a way of balancing aggression." (LSDA, 2004) I'm not completely convinced of this, worth looking into. It does confirm our previous experience with the toy gun though, we definitely found that our kids enjoyed playing with toy guns and it got them out of their system.

And the potentially harmful or negative aspects found include:
  • Health risks that can be attributed to repetitive game playing, include: Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Caused by using the control pad/controller of a console for long time periods. Sore eyes can happen from looking or squinting at the screen for long periods of time and headaches occur as a consequence of eyes being sore, they need a rest. I've experienced RSI myself. After more than 15 years of using the keyboard and mouse every day I finally had a bout of RSI, it's painful and you know about it. Probably best self-diagnosed. Quite simply it's very painful when you use the computer and something you must attend to immediately but definitely treatable (dealt with better in a separate post)

  • Addiction can happen and excessive gaming can produce severe negative psycho-social effects; these range from low self-esteem and dependency to asocial and aggressive attitudes and behaviors, such as gambling and stealing to finance play." Some computer game players become addicted to their games, never leaving their rooms until they have completed a level or the game itself. This can impact on other aspects of the individuals life, no differently to any addiction. I hope your children don't have addictive personalities although I've recently listened to a Dennis Prager talk about the benefits of understanding a child's addictive personality when you can still do something about it.

  • Violence: Some games stimulate violent tendencies, especially the category labeled first Person Shooter games.

  • Lack of Communication: Computer games some claim due to their addictive nature can cause a lack of communication skills in those who constantly play them. This can lead to 'gamers' becoming anti-social among their social groups and peers.

  • Less motivated: Children are less motivated to go outside and play sports, they prefer to stay in their bedrooms.

  • Gender and racial stereotyping - As with all forms of popular media, video games have the potential to influence how children perceive themselves and others. Most video games are designed by males, for males. While people of many cultures play video games, that diversity is not usually reflected in the games themselves. White male characters dominate in the majority of popular games, while non-white characters often play the traditional supporting roles of sidekick or villain.

You will decide what suits your family best, but keep in mind that you may only be seeing what you want to see. Changing your view is always uncomfortable, hopefully this will make you think twice and consider looking a little deeper. Can computer games stimulate communications between people? There are games that disconnect an individual from the outside world, so how will you recognize the opportunities for kids to play in imaginary environments and what are the real risks to your kids in multi-player gaming environments.

Over the past 5 years my son has been playing World of Warcraft, on and off. I'd say that he has times when one would perceive potential 'addiction', he is absorbed in the game during the times he plays. We have the normal concerns, just by glancing at the potential harmful effects in the list above keeps one thinking. And one also considers the positive outcomes. What are the lessons he learns in the game? [come back for part two next week :)]


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Anonymous Mr. Pink said...

Arguments can be made either way, whether computer games are bad or good for the kinds, but it should really come down to common sense of the parents. My philosophy is this:

Kids have been growing up without computer games throughout the entire history of the world. History proves that this traditional upbringing is definitely not bad. Although there might be benefits to exposing our kids to lotsa computer games, the truth is that the current generation of kids are basically guinea pigs. We can use philosophy to argue either way, but history will show what the effects of computer games really are. The question every parent needs to answer in his/her mind is, "Do I want my kind to be a guinea pig, too?"

Furthermore, I don't give much weight to official studies, because (once again) history shows that scientific studies are often biased. In short, who is conducting what study; who is financing what study; and who might benefit from results showing one way or the other?

I think the best common sense is to expose our future generations to some computer games, and keep the amount of exposure under check. We don't want our kinds to be dummies either, so we need to expose them to the modern world and what's happening in it. But parents need to keep it in check.

In closing, leaving a kind glued to a computer (game or the internet) is not parenting. You wanna be a good parent, you need to spend quality time with your kid(s). If you can't do that, don't have kids; it's not as if there's a shortage of humans on this planet.

3:46 pm  
Blogger 1k4tribike said...

Just saw your blog and found this article quite enlightening. May I link your blog to my site/notes? Thanks and cheers to 2011

3:44 am  

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