5 Things Parents Need to Know About Video Games

#1 – Ratings Are Not a Silver Bullet

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is a non-profit regulatory body created by the entertainment software industry. They have established a ratings system designed to help consumers, particularly parents, determine the appropriateness of a particular product to their needs. While the ratings system is extremely helpful, parents should be aware that the system is not fool-proof. Some games rated T (for ages 13+), for instance, may still contain language, themes or violence that a parent feels is inappropriate for their child. Some games rated M (for ages 17+) may actually not include as much inappropriate content as one might expect. And in all cases, what your child can handle and what you think is appropriate for them are entirely subjective–only you and your child can decide what fits with your values and what your child is emotionally ready to handle. Either play the game yourself, talk to a gamer friend about the game, or check out review sites such as Gamer Dad or Commonsense Media to find out more information about the game in question.

#2 – Video Games Have Not Been Conclusively Linked to Violent Behavior

After 40 years of study, the controversy continues. There are definitely studies which show an effect–but there are also studies and research reviews which show flaws in those studies showing an effect. What we do know is that video games are interactive, and do have a measurable effect on our brain chemistry. The principles of game design include providing challenges and problems to the player, and rewards to the player when those challenges and problems are overcome. This challenge and reward system triggers powerful biochemical reactions in the brain, which can in turn have both positive and negative effects depending on the individual and the situation. In the end, you as a parent must observe your child carefully. Does your child tend to have aggression and anger-management issues generally? If so, a more careful monitoring of the aggression and violence content of their games is probably warranted, at least until they are of an age where they have learned positive strategies for controlling or directing their natural tendencies.

#3 – Video Games Make Kids Smarter

In his book Everything Bad Is Good For You , Steven Johnson makes the argument that popular culture has actually become more complex and intellectually challenging in the past twenty to thirty years. As part of his argument, he points to evidence that video games in particular teach players to probe their environment to understand the underlying mechanics and rules; to use complex and multilayered strategies for solving a series of interlocking problems; and to test the consequences of various choices and behaviors in a relatively low-risk environment. Other researchers, such as Karl Kapp  and James Paul Gee  have also shown how video games help children and adults learn learn how to think and learn better, as well as showing that video games have the potential to teach specific skills or subject-area knowledge.

#4 – Video Games Are Not Just For Kids and Not Just For Boys

It is generally accepted that the first interactive computer game created was Tennis for Two, created in 1958 by William Higinbotham using an analog computer and an oscilloscope. Video games really took off in the 1970’s, with the invention of arcade consoles and the Atari home game console. Thus, “Generation X” was probably the first generation of children to grow up playing video games on a regular basis. Since then, video games have become a ubiquitous part of childhood culture. But those who play games don’t stop playing when they reach adulthood! Plus, when they have children themselves, they share their love of games with the next generation. As a result, we have the statistic from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) that the average game player is now 30 years old and has been playing games for 12 years. A whopping 68% of gamers are over the age of 18! Plus, the age-old myth that video games are primarily the realm of teenage boys is just that–a myth. According to the ESA, a higher percentage of adult women play video games than teenage boys 17 and younger.

#5 – Video Games Can Promote World Change

Jane McGonigal, creator of Games for Change  is convinced that video gamers can change the world . Kati London believes that video games can teach real-world problem-solving skills. A computer game called Foldit  has helped real scientists solve problems related to curing cancer and HIV/AIDS. Carrie Pritchard is creating a video game that teaches social skills to children on the autistic spectrum. Some parents of autistic children are finding that certain types of video games actually help their autistic children learn to overcome the challenges inherent in their condition. These are just a few examples of how people are using video games to solve real world problems and promote positive changes. I encourage you to look around and keep your eyes and ears open for ways that video games, as an emerging artistic medium, are both inspiring and actually creating positive change in the world.


3 thoughts on “5 Things Parents Need to Know About Video Games

  1. Megan, we design video games in our classroom. It is not quite as creative as it sounds, as it uses an Internet based site called Game Star Mechanic. I was apprehensive, but the results are amazing with collaborative problem-solving, real critical thinking, and serious engagement in learning.

    Your posting resonated with me and we are only tapping the surface of the benefits.

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