The Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games

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Although video games usually are usually considered a form of entertainment, they also have educational and academic benefits that can help students in school. Here are some of the cognitive benefits of video games!

Hand-eye coordination. Video games that require real-time movement rely on fast reflexes. Whether using a controller or simply your finger on a touch screen, these movements can help develop accurate hand-eye coordination. In addition, some video games (like exercise and dance titles) also provide excellent physical health benefits as well!

Organizational skills. Many popular games (like RPGs, or role playing games) require players to manage inventory, sort through skill sets, keep track of turns and character levels – the list goes on! Going back to the days of Dungeons and Dragons, some games can be extremely engrossing that require comprehensive multitasking and management. Learning how to prioritize your resources to accomplish a goal is a useful skills in all areas – academics and beyond.

Decision making and strategizing. Strategy games require players to plan out their moves, predict their opponent’s thoughts, weigh the risks and rewards of a situation, and form educated guesses about what their next action should be. All these processes are part of executive functioning abilities, and the practice received from these types of games continues well after the “game over” screen!

Memorization. Move-based games require button or control combinations that must be memorized, practiced, and executed successfully. Want to do the super jump? Well, you have to tap the “A” button twice while also holding “up.” See what we mean? Actions like this not only contribute to the hand-eye coordination benefits we discussed above, but also help with training the muscle memory involved in performing complex actions repeatedly.

New interests. Many video games have historical or fantasy settings that are highly informational and can help to spark a deeper interest in these topics. A video game about knights and dragons may inspire a student to become interested in the medieval ages. Video games can give us an opportunity to learn about new worlds, cultures, and beliefs.

Educational benefits. Many games are inarguably educational and can inspire kids to pursue further interests and skill sets well beyond the game’s scope. For example, flight simulator games not only help hand-eye coordination as discussed above, but also introduce a wide spectrum of information on aviation and geography. City building games are a fascinating look into urban development and resource management. Space exploration games delve into fields of rocketry, physics, and interplanetary travel. House builders and “sims” rely on concepts of space planning, interior design, and architecture. Farm simulators introduce concepts of sustainability in agriculture. With so many types of video games out there, there’s something for everyone – and there’s no limit to what you can learn!

Math practice. Many games involve the usage of statistics, encouraging players to understand values and numbers. Sports games in particular are a great example of this - when building your team, an athlete’s averages and statistics become important factors. Shot percentages, batting averages, and goals per game are all based on number-crunching. These games can be excellent examples of the real life applications of math!

Things to Keep In Mind

Gaming Addiction. Although video games can provide many of the cognitive and educational benefits discussed above, it’s important to set a time limit for your child’s gaming sessions. Video games can become addictive, and there comes a point where too much game time can have adverse effects. In studies examining children who had become addicted to video games, results showed that as kids cut down their game time, their grades improved. Video games can have educational benefits, but like any recreational activity - it’s important to not to overdo it. Furthermore, too much screen time is shown to affect sleeping patterns. Make sure to keep an eye on the amount of time your kids are spending playing video games. Moderation is key! Encourage your kids to take breaks during gaming sessions to reduce eye strain.

Age level. Make sure the games you buy for your children are age appropriate. Younger children may not be comfortable with games requiring high levels of dexterity or fast hand-eye coordination. In addition, ensure that the games your kids play do not contain content inappropriate for their age range. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, will have a rating clearly displayed on a video game’s packaging or purchase page. In general, games for kids should fall under these categories:

  • E (Everyone): Acceptable for all ages.
  • E10+ (Everyone Age 10+): Acceptable for kids over the age of 10.
  • T (Teen): Content suited for ages 13 and up.

For more information about ratings, check out the ESRB Ratings Guide.

Types of Games. Not all games have educational benefits, so it’s important to research the titles you plan on buying for your kids prior to purchasing them. Here are some fun educational games to check out:

  • Cities: Skylines - Urban planning, city development, and money management
  • Minecraft - Block building that encourages creativity and problem solving skills
  • Kerbal Space Program - Space travel, flight simulation, physics
  • Super Mario Maker - Level design with endless creative options, hand-eye coordination
  • Civilization (series) - Historical simulator incorporating politics, resource management, and strategic growth
  • Sports games (Madden, FIFA, etc.) - Encourages real-life physical activity, strategic planning, and working with statistics
  • The Sims - Explore careers and develop both architectural and interior design skills when building your own houses
  • Pokémon - Encourages team building, working with numbers, and strategic planning - also requires a large amount of reading (games are text only without voice-overs)
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