Are Video Games Good for Kids?

February 16, 2006

This has been an on-going debate between my husband and I. An avid gamer himself, he plans to insist that our son join him for “matches.” (Not sure what the proper terminology is for “squaring off” in a video game dual.)

But seeing that today’s shoot-me-up games and graphic violence, especially towards women, are a distant reminder of the Pong I played on my Atari, I am not sure I want my son spending his afternoons shooting `em up. It’s inevitable that my son will join my husband on the console, but I expect his playing to be monitored and limited.

In my husband’s defense, scientific evidence that there is a link between childhood aggression and video game playing is inconsistent, depending on the news story and its sources. Still, some child psychologists do believe there is a link because the teenager’s brain is not fully developed to stop acting aggressively and impulsively.

To my husband’s glee, Canadian researchers are now finding evidence that avid video game playing is good in that it protects the brain from aging, according to a Globe and Mail report. A “body of research,” later identified in the story as a study involving 100 Toronto undergraduates and a “few other studies” not named, show that playing video games “exercises the mind” as does fluency in a foreign language.

Like being bilingual and having the ability to suppress one language while speaking the other, video gamers are able to shut out distractions to focus on other tasks. In the latest study involving the 100 university students, scientists found that video-gamers consistently outperformed their non-playing peers in a series of mental tests. If the gamers also happened to be bilingual, they were unbeatable.

The York study, which tested subjects’ responses to various misleading visual cues, is to be published next month in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology. Three other studies published in the past two years have also concluded that action video games can lead to mental gains involving visual skills and short-term memory.

No one is certain how this translates to general learning or everyday life. But Mr. Evans, 21, an aerospace engineering student, said years of gaming have added valuable dimensions to his thinking.

“I grew up with video games, starting with Nintendo and SuperMario . . . from the age of 8 or 9,” he said. “I know it helps with my dexterity; it’s good for co-ordination and faster reflexes.”

Yeah, but today’s games aren’t the loveable Super Mario brothers.