September 26, 2008

In Defense of Gaming

I've always let my kids play video games as much as they wanted (but we do have bedtimes) and I've often wondered if that was the right strategy. We've joked about how educational they are, trying to convince ourselves that yes, this really is a worthwhile pastime.

This summer I'd see Peter with headphones on playing something with little green balls going here and there. I'd give him a funny look and he'd say, "I'm listening to college lectures." Oh, OK, the game was just keeping his hands busy, I guess. But there are other, more truly educational games like Zoo Tycoonwhere you build a zoo and have to keep all the animals and patrons happy in order to succeed. In Sim Cityyou "create and control your own urban empire." And a family favorite, 1602 A.D., gives you the chance to help settlers build the New World.

So today when I saw an article entitled, "Major New Study Shatters Stereotypes About Teens and Video Games," I was intrigued. A study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project with funds from the MacArthur Foundation makes these conclusions:
A focus of the survey was the relationship between gaming and civic experiences among teens. The goal was to test concerns that gaming might be prompting teens to withdraw from their communities. It turns out there is clear evidence that gaming is not just an entertaining diversion for many teens; gaming can be tied to civic and political engagement. Indeed, youth have many experiences playing games that mirror aspects of civic and political life, such as thinking about moral and ethical issues and making decisions about city and/or community affairs. Not only do many teens help others or learn about a problem in society during their game playing, they also encounter other social and civic experiences:
  • 52% of gamers report playing games where they think about moral and ethical issues.
  • 43% report playing games where they help make decisions about how a community, city or nation should be run.
  • 40% report playing games where they learn about a social issue.
Moreover, the survey indicates that youth who have these kinds of civic gaming experiences are more likely to be civically engaged in the offline world. They are more likely than others are to go online to get information about current events, to try to persuade others how to vote in an election, to say they are committed to civic participation, and to raise money for charity.
Interesting! If you click here, you can read the whole article, the survey itself, and watch a short CBS video report.

Video game expertise can also be lucrative. Peter's Guitar Heroskills came in handy last weekend, on his first day at the University of Chicago. The bookstore was having a contest and he almost won an iPod. I'm so proud.

related links:
Fox news on video game research
my article Video Games and Learning


Unknown said...

As I just dropped my 12 year old son off for a sleepover which will include a late night of playing video games, I am always glad to see new information about video games. Here is great video I recently viewed about gaming that I bet you would enjoy.

Anonymous said...

sometimes I wonder if some of the fear is to do with unfamiliarity with the medium. Surely lots of kids have isolated themselves in their rooms reading books and seemed not to be participating in community and social life? but games... It is good to see this kind of hard evidence.

Heather said...

Something else about video games aside from all the typical stuff--when I was young my dad always played one round of Zantac, a scrolling shooter on Intelision because he said he played better after (which makes sense because it got his brain doing the eye on the ball back and forth motion you use in racquetball.) Now I find that when I have to paint houses or other things that are geometrical and take perspective I do MUCH better if I play some sort of Tetris or other spacial logic style game when I take breaks from working. Basically it gets the brain working in a mathematical or left brain way--though I CANNOT play that sort of game and instead need to play word games if I am doing more creative illustrations. I also find that doing certain types of games when I am trying to memorize things makes a difference in whether I remember or not. So, Peter listening while playing is a very legitimate activity as it gives the brain something to associate the information with AND, depending on the sort of information and the sort of game, may boost the side of the brain so that he understands better. It is very similar to how doing crossword and logic puzzles help with memory retention. (And I was one of those antisocial kids who HATED parties or other social situations and preferred to hole up in my room with books.)

23 degrees said...

I remember a few years ago waiting with Brody until midnight to get a new game, and playing it with him until 4 A.M. (keeping him home from school, none-the-less.)

I think not only did he learn teamwork, leadership, and strategy (oh yeah, and all the great things you mentioned) but we created a memory that I still hear him talk about with his friends.

Jena said...

23 Degrees--I so remember that!

Heather, I want to hear more about all this, especially how you combine games with memorizing things. Do you listen to tapes while you play games? And which games?

Jove, I agree. I think "new" things often get discounted just because they aren't traditional.

And Cathy, thanks for the link! Loved that video. I think I'll post about it soon. :)

Anonymous said...

I have always done the same with no regrets. Miss Sam started with Pokemon when she was three years old - there is a lot of positives about gamin - I was happy to see this post as I catch a lot of 'looks' about the time Miss Sam spends 'gaming'.

Catherine said...

Jena, first of all, I love your blog! About eight years ago, I was going to some conferences to learn to do ultrasounds during pregnancy. One of the things that I learned was that people who had played video games a good bit had an easier time learning to do the scans. In med school, they said that gamers tended to learn laparscopic techniques more easily than those who never played video games. Video games help people learn to control what they see on the screen with what they are holding in their hands.


Traci said...

It really is so refreshing to read your blog. I can quit feeling guilty!

heidi @ ggip said...

I have to say that I"m not a fan of gaming, but I did get my preschooler a gameboy (USED) for his birthday. He needs something to do when we are in all our doctors appointments, and he does learn from the online computer games, so we're giving it a shot.

Thanks! I'm here via Danielle.

Copyright Information

All of the written content and photographs on are protected under copyright. But feel free to link to my content anytime. And if you have any questions, just contact me at yarnsoftheheart [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you!
Clip art courtesy of and Pure Clip Art