I married a gamer. Since gaming is ‘Love’s hobby, it’s something the kids have always been interested in, and it’s been a natural activity for them to bond over. Unfortunately, I feel as if I’m constantly apologizing for the fact that my kids spend an hour most days taking turns playing computer or console games with Daddy.
I’ve decided that the time for apologizing is over. While there’s always a chance that they’re picking up negative habits or beliefs from slaying pixelated zombies or conglomerate monster-things (and we are pretty careful about the types of games we expose our kids to–though interestingly enough no one seems to think we should abandon Bible reading when the kids role play David killing Goliath or Solomon threatening to cut the head off the baby to determine its true mother), the more I’ve watched and listened to them gaming with Daddy, the more I’m convinced that gaming, like most other hobbies, has many benefits.
Yeah, I don’t want my kids to become obsessively glued to a computer, but that goes for any hobby: I want my kids to be well-balanced, and obsessing about or participating in one single thing to the exclusion of anything else is not the ideal. In the name of encouraging a wide variety of hobbies to reap their associated benefits, here are five main areas in which gaming has benefited my kids:
Problem-Solving: From figuring out the game setup to navigating the controls to solving puzzles or balancing skill development or creating battle strategies, I can’t think of a single game that doesn’t require at least some element of problem-solving. Problem-solving is a life skill, as anyone who’s tried to assemble Ikea furniture, navigate computer programs at a new job, or figure out how to create a meal from whatever odds and ends are in the pantry can attest.
Visual-Spatial: As they game, your kids are figuring out how to navigate the screen in either two or (virtually) three dimensions. They’re figuring out how to time their jump or hit, how high to build that wall, where to turn to reach the treasure. All of these things require them to coordinate their visual input with their game-control output. This skill set translates into life, as well. ‘Love often points to gaming as having contributed to his excellent reflexes–he is far more able to quickly react to visual input (like something being knocked off the counter) than I am, and he can size up containers for leftovers, determine if the couch will fit through the doorway, and pack the van for vacation like a boss.
Social: Many games allow players to join together in building or questing, providing an excellent opportunity for them to work on social problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and compromise. Even single-player games offer opportunities for taking turns, discussing strategies, critiquing performance, analyzing failures, and both appropriately sharing your own feats and lauding those of others.
Vocabulary: This one was surprising to me. I didn’t anticipate how much vocabulary would be embedded within the games my kids played. Various games have had them discussing sundry traditional magical races (elves, orcs, dwarfs, fairies), encountering new items (chandeliers, mounts, forges, anvils, ore, merchants, antidotes), and gaining descriptive language (buff, aggressive, potent, shameful, adequate, critical) and new verbs (craft, regenerate, damage). Many games even have some humorous elements built in, which further stretches vocabulary skills.
Other Academics: Sure, there are plenty of games that specifically target academic skills, but that’s not what I’m going for. Few of your friends and relatives are going to give you the stink-eye for letting your kid play a little Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit (remember those?); it’s those non-academic games that get people’s dander up. But you’d be surprised at how gaming provides practical application for those basic academic skills. Want to craft a new weapon? First you need to research what ingredients are necessary and what crafting station you’ll need, then you have to check your inventory and calculate how much more ore you should mine in order to have the appropriate amount. Reading and math have gotten a little workout. Need to travel to a different location? Pull up your map and figure out how to navigate from where you are to where you want to be. It’s time to work on your character’s skills or gear. Whether you’re playing Oregon Trail, developing a sports team, or preparing for a battle, you’ll have to compare the specs of the equipment or skills you’re considering and do a little cost-benefit analysis in order to determine what’s most worth your investment of time and money. That’s kid-friendly economics right there. Look a little deeper and you’ll find a lot of skills are needed to play most of your computer and console games.
After all, isn’t that what academic skills are for–practicing things you’ll need in real life? Gaming just puts the “real life” in quotes and brings it to an accessible level.
Next time you’re feeling the heat for letting your kids enjoy some technology fun, stop yourself from apologizing. Instead, remember that there ARE benefits to gaming, and gleefully continue encouraging your kids’ diverse interests!