The Benefits of Gaming

April 5, 2014
As a person who provides services to children and their families, I often find myself in the discussion of how games can be helpful. I am surprised, and sometimes saddened, by how many times I ask someone what tabletop games he or she has at home and the answer is zero.

Many parents have come to think that games have no actual benefits, or worse, that they can be detrimental. Stories of children behaving violently "due to some video game" are not uncommon after all, and it should be no surprise that parents have begun to fear that letting their children play certain games can instill violence and aggression. In fact, some research does seem to suggest that certain video games can do just that.

The other side of the coin is unfortunately not promoted as often. Games can be, in fact, very beneficial. The importance of play in young children's lives has been very documented over the years. When in play, we engage the right hemisphere of the brain, which largely contributes to imagination, creativity, spatial awareness, and insight. Play can promote imagination, help develop gross and fine motor skills, help develop conflict resolution skills, and overall enhance a child's life. Play is necessary, it's crucial for child development.

Through the past decades, the types of games that are available have evolved. Games don't have to be sedentary. Active games, such as Kinect games, can promote physical activity in children, thereby getting them to exercise, and, if used right, helping decrease the likelihood of childhood obesity.

Games can also be educational. For example, Trading Card Games like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! can help children develop math and logical thinking skills, as well as strategy. Many games can also promote problem-solving skills. I recently came across a very interesting series of articles on Kinect games in the classroom.

For years now, games have been found to be useful for helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn social thinking skills, and enhance reciprocity, thereby increasing social interaction.

Many parents that I have spoken with find themselves a bit befuddled when they try to spend time with their kid, only to have the kid then suggest Minecraft (which, by the way, I also often find useful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder). I often suggest to parents, especially those who don't feel too comfy playing video games and who do not have tabletop games at home, to go out and buy a game that they can all play together. Choose one night of the week for Family Game Night. A parent's life is super busy, but it is important to prioritize spending time with the kids.

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