There are several ways children can learn and grow and there are an equally large amount of ways to facilitate this growth. Knowledge and growth can be gained through the telling of stories, listening to music, viewing beautiful artwork, and simply through playing and having fun. Throughout history many media sources such as books, video, and the Internet has been utilized to provide these types of learning experiences. Today each of these media outlets has been noted for their ability to share knowledge and inspire but what about one of today’s newest and most controversial forms of media. With its growing popularity and the discoveries of both positive and negative effects this new form of media called “video games” has led more and more people to start asking the question “Should children be allowed to play video games?”
Before I proceed, allow me to share a story. This story tells the learning experiences and discoveries of a young child. Imagine a child who seldom leaves his home outside attending school. He was seldom allowed to play with other children outside of school and as a result had little interest in playing outside. As a result the child turned to books and video as a source knowledge and growth. This proved to teach the child a great many things but as he grew older he became less interested in watching educational programs and reading books and no longer gained any inspiration from them. However, the child eventually received a new way to learn and grow. Through this the child experienced fascinating stories, heard various types of interesting music, saw beautiful environments, and could even be or interact with the heroes in the stories. Through these experiences the child gained knowledge of historical facts, an interest for music, a renewed appreciation for storytelling, interest in various subject areas, and so much more. One may now ask “what was the source of this”. The answer to this question is quite simple: video games.
When most people think of video games they see little use for them besides being a source of entertainment or as a waste of time. I believe that this quote describes the views of many parents: “for many parents, the mere mention of video games conjures visions of kids’ little brains turning to mush from staring at a screen all day” (Landau, 2006). Although it is true that there are negative effects associated with playing video games, with proper guidance there is so much that can be gained from the positive effects of playing video games.
Before divulging into either side I think that it would be best to first discuss both the possible positive and negative effects on children from playing video games. There are several negative effects of playing video games. Much of the negative effects of playing video games result from excessive amounts of use. Effects occurring as a result of excessive use include an increased chance of obesity, a weakening of the body, and a decline of social abilities.
There are also a few possible negative effects that are still undergoing research. First, being a possibility of increased aggression as a result of playing highly violent video games. The “General Aggression Model (GAM) tries to explain the development of aggression and individual differences in susceptibility to violent video games” (Kooijmans, 2004). A paper written by Thomas A. Kooijmans of the Rochester Institute of Technology states that “GAM helped how complicated an issue the relationship between aggression and violent video games is. Gentile et al. (2004) claim those possessing more hostile factors are at greater risk for becoming more aggressive from playing violent video games, while those possessing less hostile factors see little effect on their aggression” (Kooijmans, 2004). Researchers have found evidence which suggests a link between highly violent video games and increased aggression is possible but more research needed to confirm this information. The second, negative effect still under research is a possibility of an addiction to playing video games. Like the previous effect no conclusive evidence has yet been found.
When viewing the positive effects of playing video games one may be pleasantly surprised at the results. Benefits of playing video games include an “increase in problem-solving skills, the ability to perceive and recall subtle cues, foresee consequences of actions and act on past consequences, a manner of releasing or controlling aggression, a means of dealing with success and failure, and an opportunity to improve the spirit of cooperation” (Gardner, 1991). Other benefits of playing video games include improved reading, math, map reading, hand-eye coordination, and social skills. Of course please note that effects can depend on the game being played. There are more benefits as well as some specific health and mental health benefits but this should provide an ample amount of information to gain a proper perspective.
There are many who are opposed to children playing video games and would rather see video games eliminated. Granted their arguments are not completely without reason and they do contain are a few strong points. The most notable being some video games contain extreme portrayals of violence, inappropriate material, and may cause an increase in aggression. Examples of this can be seen in games such as Mortal Kombat and the highly controversial Man Hunt. Admittedly these games are definitely not suited for children and possibly in the case of Man Hunt unsuitable for everyone. Two other notable arguments include an increased chance of obesity and a possibility of developing becoming addicted. As stated prior evidence exists which suggests both effects are possible however more research is required before confirming this information. The argument of obesity can be considered sound since most video games involve little to no movement. Another notable argument would be that video games can cause a decline in academic performance. This is valid concern since academic performance can be important to a child’s future. There are of course other arguments why children should not play video games. One being video games can result in a decrease of social skills.
These are valid concerns however each argument possesses its limitations. Limits on the suggested link between violent video games and increased aggression include a lack of conclusive evidence and hard facts that confirm there actually is a link. This can be confirmed through 2008 study which results found little to no correlation of virtual violence affecting aggressive behavior in real life (Ferguson & Kilburn, 2008). Similarly a major limit of the addiction argument is there is no conclusive evidence or hard facts confirming there actually is a link. A limit of the obesity argument being that it is based solely on playing video games excessively. Another limit would be increasing amount of video games being made which require a degree of physical activity. This somewhat disarms the argument because being physically active decreases the chances of obesity.
There are multiple limitations on the argument of video games causing a decline in academic performance. One being that the argument is mainly based on playing video games excessively. This is because doing anything but school work excessively can cause declines in academic performance. Another limitation being that video games have been proven to increase the knowledge and cognitive ability of children. One example of this being that from playing video games containing large amounts of text children can actually improve their reading abilities. One limit regarding the argument of video games causing declines in social skills being that many video games involve playing and interacting with other people virtually. Also, children can even play video games in the same room as friends or family members. Because of this playing video games can actually encourage social interaction between players. Among opposing views one common limit would be they are often biased against video games, what’s more “video games are often used as scapegoats for concerns also associated with other media such as television or films” (“BBC news,” 2005).
Clearly there are reasons children should not play video games however there are also many more reasons children should play video games. One reason being video games can aid in a child’s development. For example “Younger children can play early literacy games where pattern, shape, and sequencing are key elements” and as a result “children can learn in a group while laughing together to a game that highlights core pre-literacy skills” (Borawski et al.,2009, p. 49). Even older children, can play games such as “Nintendo’s Endless Ocean, which aligns with AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner in all four areas” (Borawski et al., 2009, p. 49). Another reason that children should play video games would be that video games contain many creative elements which in turn can inspire creativity. For example “video games with strong storylines can feature major plot twists, deep character development, and dramatic climaxes” (Hutchison, 2007, p. 217). I am certain that people would doubt this but there are many video games featuring strong storylines as well as entertaining gameplay and can be found for children of all ages. For example, younger children may enjoy the adventures of Mario in Super Mario RPG whereas adolescents may enjoy the storylines of Namco’s Tales of Symphonia or Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Path of Radiance. Video games also feature beautiful artwork and well composed music. Parents may also enjoy that video games feature many styles of music ranging from classical to rock and they need not about worry of their children hearing the offensive lyrics contained in some of today’s popular music.
Two other reasons children should play video games are that they can increase problem solving skills and increase hand-eye coordination. Problem solving skills can improve from playing video games featuring complex puzzles such as Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series or games featuring much planning and strategy like the Civilization series or the Fire Emblem series. Strategy type games can also teach players planning and organizational skills by giving tasks like managing various resources and units while trying to clear each level or map. Mitch Wade co-author of Got Game states that “from surveying professionals who grew up playing video games we saw that the button pushing wasn’t important but the problem-solving and they’re better at things you need in business” (Lewis , 2005). Playing shooting type games can improve hand-eye coordination. Admittedly many shooting games like the popular Halo series are not suitable for children and adolescents however shooting games such as the Star Fox series are much more suited for adolescents. Other benefits of video games include “getting unmotivated students interested in subjects like history and can help gifted students apply critical-thinking and other higher-level skills to subjects they already know” (Shreve, 2011). Because video games combine aspects of several types of media such as books, art, and movies all of these benefits become possible.
Now that both arguments have been shown one question that parents may ask is “Is there anything to help guide me as I determine which games are right for my children”. Fortunately for parents like other forms of media video games also have a ratings system. In the United States the rating system used is the system set by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). ESRB or “The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 and video game content ratings, enforces advertising guidelines and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices” (ESRB). ESRB uses an age based rating system which ranges from “early childhood to Adults only” and “includes over 30 different content descriptors that refer to potentially inappropriate content such as violence and suggestive themes” (ESRB). These rating systems can be used as a guideline to help parents decide if a game is appropriate for their child or not. Although some people would argue that the ratings are only somewhat helpful. As a result it would be wise for parents to not only use the ESRB ratings but also to do their own research to see if a particular video game is appropriate for their child.
Another important tool for parents to help regulate which games their children may play would be parental controls. Parental controls can be found on each of today’s major video game consoles and allow parents to “select the maximum ESRB rating level you deem appropriate for their children” (ESRB) as well as prevent access to other features. This is usually done through the setting of a four digit password. Through the use of parental controls and rating systems parents can help insure proper use of video games as well as further ensure that video game play remains to be a beneficial experience for their children.
Overall video games contain positive and negative effects and although research has been done on both, there is still much more needed to be done. However, the biggest obstacle in understanding the beneficial effects of video games is both a lack of understanding and common misconceptions. As a result with the proper research and an open mind video games can be seen in a whole new light. In conclusion I believe that children should be allowed to play video games because despite the negative effects of playing video games with proper use the positive effects of playing video games can have rewarding effects for everyone.