Wandering poorly prepared into a discussion about video games is ill-advised. Yet, people who don’t play video games commonly argue that long hours spent focused on digital playthings, especially by children, rot their brains. It is an uninformed point of view.
There are plentiful misconceptions about video games. That label itself is outdated. Video games have evolved in many different directions and “gamification” is rapidly becoming part of the most important aspects of society, from education and healthcare to banking and retail.
But what about those children isolated in their bedrooms or basements playing games endlessly?
Recent research, published in JAMA Network Open, suggests the kids will be fine. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study is a long-term study inviting 11,880 children ages 9-10 and their families across 21 locations to participate in research that tracks their biological and behavioural development through adolescence into young adulthood.
The new findings involving nearly 2,000 of these children indicate that those who reported playing video games for three or more hours per day performed better on cognitive skills tests involving impulse control and working memory compared to children who had never played video games.
But should these kids adhere to the long-standing Gifford-Jones advice of practicing “all things in moderation”?
The ABCD Study is ongoing and will help answer this question in the years ahead as these children mature into young adults.
But the evidence to date suggests there are ample benefits to video games among the young and old alike.
Students gain expertise in subjects like history, literature, religion, mathematics, and science through games without knowing they are learning. They also gain skills in strategy, creative thinking, problem solving, eye-hand coordination, and of course, concentration.
Games also provide opportunities to learn about topics such as cooking, politics, agriculture, and city planning that people may not have been exposed to in school.
Many games can help people become more physically active, not less. From simple and fun games that get people up from the couch to dance to virtual reality games that demand physical prowess and stamina from participants, there are opportunities for using games to get exercise.
Studies have shown that people who play more games report better mental health. Critics overlook the social elements of the games people play, and it is these game features that involve team play and social networks which participants report as the drivers of better well-being.
Online games played an important role in helping friends and families stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, socializing together while keeping a distance.
But there are concerns too. It’s hard to find the humanity in violent video games. The connection between games that offer rewards for repeated accomplishment of goals and the development of addiction behaviours is still hotly debated. And the gaming industry has struggled with how it has handled gender and race.
Julius Caesar said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.”
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, suggested it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of a skill.
The children in the ABCD Study performing better on cognitive tests are playing at least three hours of games a day. That is just over 1,000 hours a year.
According to people who try to measure these things, it takes about 700 hours of learning to be an expert in yoga and about 42,240 hours to be an expert in neurosurgery.
Those 1,000 hours of video games do not seem so bad in light of it all.
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