Video games are growing faster than ever, and it has parents worried. They hear about gamers experiencing obsessive tendencies and anxiety, and how the lack of physical activity could negatively impact a child’s health. Now with mediums like YouTube and Twitch allowing gamers to earn big money for streaming their gameplay and professional tournaments offering cash rewards, there’s an aspiration among many kids to become “professional” video gamers.
The problem is so serious that the World Health Organization has even listed ‘gaming disorder’ as a mental illness in its list of International Classification of Diseases, similar to alcoholism and gambling.
But are video games really that bad for kids?
Dr. Marcus Carter from the University of Sydney has posited a different take. In a study from 2017, he states that the benefits of video games may outweigh the potential negative results, with a couple of caveats.
The study, titled Children and Minecraft: A survey of children’s digital play, showed that video games can be just as systemically and socially beneficial to the cognitive development of a child’s mind, as the more traditional concept of ‘play.’ Specifically reviewing the game Minecraft, the study showed children utilizing the same problem solving, social, and creative skills that they would use during non-screen-based playing. The skills were also interchangeable when they would use their imagination to mimic playing Minecraft in the real world by substituting tangible everyday objects for the virtual ones within the game.
So, why is there this great fear that gaming could destroy young people’s bodies and minds?
“Children are ‘prime objects’ for media panic,” Dr. Carter explained to Parentology over email. “They are media pioneers. Their use and expertise with digital technologies challenges social and cultural power relations, because of ideological rifts in what [parents believe] a childhood should be — such as about fun and play or about preparation for adulthood — and because children represent experiences and emotions that are lost to adults.”
Dr. Carter’s correlation between youth and pioneering technology is echoed by the United Nations Development Programme. It credits advancements in technology for young people with the creation of jobs, empowerment of vulnerable groups, and better access to health and education.
The Vilifying of Video Games
The demonizing of video games is not an isolated incident. The evils of television warping the minds of young people is now an old wives’ tale, but it can be traced back to parents’ extreme reaction to seeing their children excessively consuming this new medium.
“Excess” is the key word, as anything in excess can contribute to a multitude of negative impacts on health, mental wellness, and behavior.
“As with any media, moderation is important,” Dr. Marcus states. “The best advice I would give parents who are concerned is to play games with their children, understand why they find this virtual world so appealing, and give them the opportunity to be the expert for a while. Use games as an opportunity to connect with your kids; don’t freak out because it feels like a barrier.”
While parents need to be continuously aware of obsessive behaviors, setting guidelines and restrictions on the amount of screen time and gameplay can lead to reaping the benefits of video games, including creative thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving and strategy. It is these precautions that can drastically reduce the actual risks of excessive video gaming by children.
Original Study: Children and Minecraft: A survey of children’s digital play (published in conjunction with Ph.D. doctoral candidate Jane Mavoa and Professor Martin Gibbs of The University of Melbourne)
World Health Organization classifies “Gaming Disorder”
United Nations Development Programme on youth and technology.