Are video games a waste of time? Or could they actually be setting kids up with valuable life skills?
Whilst there’s no denying that some people spend way too much time playing video games, the idea that it’s a completely mind-numbing activity is a load of rubbish. Gaming requires lots of concentration and tests our cognitive abilities – there are even studies that suggest it can make the brain bigger.
Can this added brainpower be used to perform other skills better? Research would certainly suggest so. Here are just a few examples of life skills that can be developed through gaming.
Games are all essentially puzzles – they require an equal mix of creativity and logic to complete, which are the key ingredients required to solve problems.
Many games teach the fast decision making needed in high pressure situations by giving players lots of information and a short time to process it and make good use of it. This extends all the way from basic games such as Tetris that require the player to fit together shapes quickly all the way to highly detailed games such as Call of Duty and Forza. Such skills can help people to act faster and more efficiently in an emergency by quickly processing and reacting to the information around them.
Gaming can also teach problem solving on a more longer time scale. RPGs that require players to select builds and skills can help teach forward planning. This can help people to prepare for problems in advance.
Some researchers have gone so far as to recommend gaming as a useful tool for improving the spatial problem solving required for engineering. There have also been many instance of gamers solving scientific problems to finding new planets that could support life to helping find a cure to AIDS by resolving enzyme-like structures. Should gaming be something more of us are putting on our CVs?
Video games require players to do multiple things at once. As well as mastering the controls, games require players to pay attention to multiple pieces of information on the screen as well as potentially communicating to other players over a headset.
Studies have been made into this and have found evidence that this could be improving our multi-tasking skills – in fact, one study using a game called NeuroRacer on a group of 60 to 85 year olds for a few hours was found to improve the multi-taking abilities of its participants for six months afterwards.
Multi-tasking is something that is required to complete many tasks in life from driving to cooking to looking after children. Gaming could helping us to pick up these tasks more easily without us even knowing.
Gaming has long been viewed as an anti-social activity, simply because it prevents people from going outdoors. But modern games are actually encouraging socialization by allowing players to communicate via headset. Not only can you play with your friends, but you can also meet new people playing online and develop new relationships.
Many games require people to work together under pressure to meet a common goal. These are the very same teamwork skills required in many workplaces.
Studies such as this one support the fact that co-operative games can build a sense of teamwork. However, these studies also found that playing video games purely competitively can harm these teamwork abilities. This suggests that if you want to become a better team player, you need to stop choosing free-for-all modes.
The idea that video games are turning us all into psychopaths could also be utterly false – video games could actually be doing the opposite, helping us to develop our sense of empathy.
Studies using the game Crystals of Kador, found that video games could be used to develop empathy - this game requires players to play as a robot that has crash-landed on a foreign planet and who must build rapport with aliens on the planet in order to make a recovery.
This is of course only one type of video game - the same might not be so easy to prove with a game like Mortal Kombat - however it could be true of other games such as Mass Effect that require you to build relationships with characters.
Video games often require a lot of perseverance. Getting through those challenging levels on the hardest difficulty often requires tens (if not hundreds) of attempts. The only way to beat the game is to try and try again.
Perseverance is a valuable life skill – if you fail, you need to have the strength to get up and start again. There are many times in life when we may fail repeatedly such as trying to get a job or trying to give up a bad habit. Could the persistence required to keep trying in gaming help us to not give up when it comes to these real life challenges?
Few studies delve into this, although gaming has spawned an entire philosophy of living life like a video game – the idea that you can keep working to improve parts of your life as if leveling up a character.
An argument could of course be that gaming teaches too much perseverance and that it develops addictive behavior over things that aren’t necessary for human survival. Just as there are times when you shouldn’t give up, there are other times when quitting is the healthy thing to do, and games don’t do this – they’re designed to make us keep playing!