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OPINION: The benefits of video gaming

You may have heard the news that playing video games is good for your brain. An analysis of more than 2,000 children 9 to 10 years old in a brain study found that kids who play video games for more than three hours a day perform better when it comes to brain function.

Like most studies, this study needs more study, because you don’t know if video games are making kids smarter or if it’s just that smart kids are choosing to play video games. I’m going with door #1.

An article about the study that ran in these pages the other day by Dr. Paul Weigle, assistant medical director at Natchaug Hospital, says “gaming has the potential to train eye-hand coordination, visual tracking and attention, multitasking, working memory, and may even improve vision.”

That sounds like a clear advantage, though I imagine many parents would raise a worried eyebrow over the more than three hours a day part. I know from experience that limiting screen time can be a challenge. In part that’s because games are designed to reward immersion, and immersion takes time. Limiting screen time can mean stopping players before they’ve had a chance to really get started, which can lead to frustration for all involved.

When I read about this recent study, available online on the JAMA Network, it made sense because in raising two kids in the late ’90s and the aughts it was evident gaming was exercising cognitive ability, though I wasn’t certain what kind of cognitive ability might be at play. I played, and watched them play, because it seemed like a good idea to keep in touch with what they were up to, but also because it was fun. I found I’m not very good at playing video games, and that the ones I could be sort of good at tended to be linear in nature, as in about getting from point A to point B.

But watching my boys, and their friends, it seemed at times something else was going on, something that was exercising a more abstract way of thinking.  And, when I played a game like “Portal,” for example, which involves finding your way out of ever more complicated puzzle rooms, I had to think about it for a while. Young people didn’t seem bothered by that thinking about it step. They just did it.

Now, my perspective is warped. I’m of a generation that grew up at a time when video games were not on the menu. Also not yet generally available were personal computers, the internet, wi-fi, cable television, smartphones, smart televisions, CDs, DVDs, VHS, VCRs, social media and … you get the idea.

So, I’m thinking parents today are better off when it comes to figuring out their kids and video games, since they are likely now to have grown up playing themselves.

Assessing the connection between gaming and brain boosting is important. Games can also be extremely powerful learning tools. Among the questions that still need exploring, according to Dr. Weigle, is “what types of games and game-play habits lend more cognitive benefits?” and, “do cognitive benefits garnered from gaming lead to any improvements in everyday functioning?”

Parents are sure to be interested in the answers.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.


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