Sunday, September 2, 2012

Submit to Your Inner Geek: Video Games

I am a rare creature; I am a teacher and mom who likes to play video games. I admit it, I love them. I like them so much, that I got a master's degree in educational technology. (I am also a certified literacy specialist.)
Many of you are not gamers, but you have kids that are. I'll be honest, you can find research to back up just about anything. But, video games are very controversial. The research is just as much pro as it is negative. In fact, the research is so overwhelming, that this article took me days to write.
What I have learned from the research, is that video games are all about how you handle them in your home. They can be a tool for learning, or they can be detrimental. As a gamer mom, I want to encourage video games in a safe, productive way. So, I compiled some of the information, so that I could make some guidelines for my family and I'm sharing them here with you.

You Can't Avoid Them
A recent poll by the Pew Internet & American Life project found that 97 percent of children 12 to 17 play games on computers, consoles and handheld devices. Video games appeal to kids. They appear to to be fair, as they are consistent and offer self-paced stimulation. Kids do not feel they are waiting for others, nor are they left behind.
So you may think that you might want to keep your kids away from them. But keep this in mind. One study showed that children who played less video games than their peers had a lower self-esteem. While students who played no video games had higher disobedience and truancy. The groups who played video games in either small or high amounts had higher attendance and "less risky friendships".
But if it makes you feel better, the culture researcher Carsten Jessen did a research study for ten years and found that children use computer games as toys in the same way they use other types of toys; they are still active and creative.

Several studies have shown that boys play more than girls and prefer more violent content. Further studies show that while gamers and non-gamers both spend the same amount of time playing sports and interacting with their families and friends; the gamer boys spend 30 percent less time reading than their peers. The gamer girls still made time to read. Furthermore, some studies predict that boys may acquire more IT skills due to more game play, which may lead to inequalities in future job markets.

One thing that all the studies have agreed on is that violent video games have negative affects. Apparently there have been approximately 44 studies about video games and aggression. "Aggression is a regular ingredient in most games, and 79-85 per cent of them contain violence (K. E. Dill et al., in press)."
I thought that video games might be a good option to get aggression out, but research has shown that youngsters who played to rid themselves of anger, actually saw the world as a
more hostile place. Therefore, they did not cope as well at school because they argued more often with their teachers and were more often involved in physical fights. They also tended to have poorer academic performance.
Further studies have shown that the longer a person (child or adult) spent playing violent computer games, the more they were involved in aggressive, as well as non-aggressive crime.

I am very serious about teaching my sons that no race or gender is better than another. So, I do not like that computer games are gender biased. The roles of women are few and are usually based on stereotypical male fantasies. Furthermore, minorities and older people are often represented in a negative or stereotypical fashion. Of course, we are all aware that children are influenced by the media, especially those under seven because they have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality. Therefore, it is important that we as parents are aware of what our children are exposed to.

Studies suggest that age plays an important factor in choosing video games. Psychologically, children aged four to eight have trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality. However, it is still important to expose children to age appropriate games, so as not to hinder them in our modern world.

As noted above, violence, equality, and age play a critical factor when choosing games for your child. Those young people whose parents either checked age limits before buying games or set limits for playing time were less involved in physical fights. Video games have a rating system on them. I would encourage you to read the ESRB Rating & Content Descriptor Guide.

 There is increasing concern that technology may be hindering the academic process. According to the Kids and Family Reading Report, the number of kids reading for pleasure has dropped over the last 20 years, due to kids preferring online entertainment. And as we have learned above, there is a correlation between violence and poor academics.
We, as parents, have to remember that literacy does not just include reading. Digital literacy in this day and age is extremely important. Many public libraries agree.  “I think we have to ask ourselves, ‘What exactly is reading?’ ” said Jack Martin, assistant director for young adult programs at the New York Public Library. “Reading is no longer just in the traditional sense of reading words in English or another language on a paper.” Many libraries are offering gaming tournaments in order to support this idea.
Furthermore, studies have shown that gaming inspires the user to think in a non-linear manner, because interactive character play causes them to assess different types of relationships. Also, action gamers are better than non-gamers at focusing on tasks and ignoring irrelevant distractions.
“Games are teaching critical thinking skills and a sense of yourself as an agent having to make choices and live with those choices,” said James Paul Gee, the author of the book “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. “You can’t screw up a Dostoevsky book, but you can screw up a game.” 
One of my favorite research studies, showed that ADHD kids improved their reading skills by playing Dance, Dance Revolution. Apparently, the movement required in the game, activated a part of the brain that increased memory retention. This makes sense to me, because it functions much in the same way the old toy Simon does. Not to mention, it has an exercise component.
Well, if you can't beat them join them. Many publishers are starting to develop books that have web-based components. Scholastic has developed a new book series, called "The 39 Clues," of which kids are required to use the books to advance in the accompanying video game.
I suggest that you encourage your kids' love of video games in healthy ways.  Regarding the scholastic series, Hal Lanse recommends, "Have a family-reading hour every week where you read aloud a chapter from the book, and then play the game together," he said. "Discuss similarities and changes in central characters as they appear in the books and videos."
Or, you can encourage your kids to read strategy books, instructional manuals, and blogs about their favorite games. These are often technical, which can be harder to read than narrative books and therefore increases their non-fiction literacy.

Limit Time
The amount of time children spend playing video games, plays a critical factor on whether or not they are a help or a hindrance in your child's emotional growth. One particular study, limited third and fourth graders to only seven hours a week of ALL media (television, video games,etc.) The study concluded that these children tended to be less aggressive than their peers. Another study showed that children who gamed more spent less time with educational extracurricular activities, leading to lower reading and writing scores.  Even better, if you can teach your kids to monitor their own time, they are less likely to be engaged in arguments and physical fights.

Reward System
I would recommend using "gaming time" as a reward. This will solve many of the issues already mentioned. Limiting time would not be a factor because they will have earned it, therefore putting a more positive spin on the time they get. Academics will not be hindered, because your child will have had to complete their academics in order to play.  Education will be addressed because they do not get to play if they perform badly at school, both academically and behaviorally.

Works Cited
Berk, Honey. "Video Games Keep Boys from Reading and Writing, Study Says." ParentDish. AOL Lifestyle, 25 Feb. 2010. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
BERMAN, JOHN. "Video Games to Get Kids Reading." ABC News. ABC News Network, 11 Dec. 2008. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon, and Jonas Heide Smith. "Playing With Fire." GAME RESEARCH. The Media Council for Chilren and Young People, Sept. 2003. Web. 2 Sept. 2012. <>.
"ESRB Rating & Content Descriptor Guide." ESRB Ratings Guide and Definitions. Entertainment Software Rating Board, n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
Komienski, Dan. "The Effects of Video Games on Reading." EHow. Demand Media, 07 May 2011. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
Rich, Motoko. "THE FUTURE OF READING; Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers." The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Oct. 2008. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
"UPDATED: New Study Claims Video Games Depict Religion in Problematic Light." Video Game Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
"Video Games Improve Reading Scores for Children with ADHD." ADHD Attention Deficit Training Neurofeedback Tool. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.
Wang, Kai-Ping, MD. "Video Games and Kids: Why They Love Them, and What Parents Can Do to Minimize the Risks |" Video Games and Kids: Why They Love Them, and What Parents Can Do to Minimize the Risks | NYU Child Study Center, n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.

1 comment:

  1. Great post!! We love video games here but I definitely have to watch and limit my 5-year old