Jan 06, 2023
How Gaming Can Influence Positive Learning Experiences
Since the advent of the first home video gaming console in the 1970s, critics have warned parents against the dangers of allowing their children to play video games. Over the years, video gaming has been blamed for everything from short attention spans to procrastination, not to mention the ages-old argument that staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time can adversely affect eyesight.
However, while there may be some truth to these arguments, it seems we hardly ever talk about the many positive influences gaming can have on children and adolescents, particularly when it comes to education. In this article, we’ll examine a brief history of video gaming and explore some of the ways playing video games can have a positive impact on school-age children.
The Rise of the Video Game Console
Widely considered the first commercial home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey was released in North America in September of 1972. Created by engineer Ralph H. Baer and his team at Sanders Associates, the console revolutionized the concept of family game night and included two controllers and a light-gun, as well as more traditional board-game pieces such as dice and paper money.
On the Odyssey, people could play a series of simple games featuring different configurations of dots and lines on a black-and-white screen. These rudimentary games inspired a young software engineer named Nolan Bushnell to create a similar ping-pong-themed game entitled Pong for his video game manufacturing company, Atari. The colossal success of Pong as a stand-alone arcade game put Atari on the map, leading them to manufacture more video games and eventually the iconic Atari 2600, which was released in 1977 and is considered to have jumpstarted the home video gaming revolution.
Over the next several decades, the sophistication and accessibility of video gaming has evolved with ever-improving technology, both from aesthetic and gameplay standpoints. In addition to the Atari 2600, consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis captured the hearts and imaginations of Generation X, leaving an indelible impression as a nostalgic childhood favorite and introducing the world to timeless characters such as Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Millennials who grew up playing Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox have equally fond memories of spending hours upon hours of free time playing beloved classic games, either by themselves or with friends.
Building Bridges: Video Games and Social Interaction
In the present day, school-age children not only can choose a staggering array of video game titles for PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and more, along with a number of smartphone and tablet gaming apps. These games can be played at home, at school, on the go—anywhere with a viable WiFi connection is a suitable location for gaming.
Perhaps even more impressively, they can also take their competition online, playing hugely popular games including Fortnite, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. with friends around the world. This level of connectivity and competition is something that could only have been dreamed about by kids in the 1980s as they blew into their NES cartridges to make them work, but in today’s society, logging in to play a game with a pal in Tokyo can be an everyday occurrence as commonplace as brushing your teeth.
Studies have linked video gaming, particularly online competition, to feelings of belonging, community and strong bonds of friendship. In a 900-person survey conducted in 45 countries in 2007 by Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction psychology at Nottingham Trent University and one of the world’s foremost video game researchers, found that approximately 75% of both male and female respondents reported making an average number of seven good friends while playing games, and 10% of the study participants reported developing at least one romantic relationship with someone they had met while online gaming.
The availability of online gaming isn’t just a great way to connect with friends across the miles, either. During the COVID-19 pandemic, video gaming allowed school-age children and teens to combat loneliness, depression and isolation by safely connecting with friends from a distance. In an April 2020 article in Time, Griffiths revealed that he highly encouraged his own children to use gaming to spend time with their friends during the lockdown. “In times of spatial distancing, gaming is what [my son] is playing with his best mates,” he said. “The last thing I want is my children to be tearing their hair out. Gaming is one of the enjoyable, engrossing things kids like to do.”
How Gaming Can Foster a Better Learning Experience
Video games have long gotten a bad rap for distracting children and teens, shortening their attention spans and taking them away from activities that are considered healthier, both physically and mentally, such as reading books and playing outdoors.
However, in moderation, video gaming has also been linked to these positive effects, which can directly correlate to a successful academic experience:
- Improved cognitive abilities - Video games can help boost visuospatial ability, which is the ability to remember various objects and recognize the relations between them. This skill is important in everyday tasks such as driving and reading maps, and is also key in areas of study such as mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.
- Enhanced problem-solving skills and logic - In a 2015 study, Australian and Chinese researchers performed fMRI scans on 27 professional gamers and found that, when compared to the scans of non-gamers, they had more gray matter and “heightened connectivity between certain subregions in the insular cortex,” which translates to enhanced problem-solving skills and logic.
- Increased hand-to-eye coordination and fine motor skills - A 2014 study from the University of Toronto found that people who play games regularly have better sensory motor skills than those who don’t play video games. These skills are critical for tasks that require you to coordinate the movement of your hands with the movement of your eyes, such as typing, playing sports and riding a bicycle.
- Greater multi-tasking ability - Because many video games require players to perform multiple tasks at a time—for instance, keeping an eye out for snipers in the distance as you move your character around and keep track of your health and ammo levels in Fortnite—playing video games regularly may help people improve their multitasking abilities in other areas of their lives, including school and work.
So, what does this mean for parents and teachers who want to find out if gaming can help school-age children achieve academically, and how can we harness kids’ love of video games to help enhance their education? The first step is to make educational game play available and accessible in schools. This can be accomplished with the acquisition of technology like Chromebooks, tablets and desktop computers, along with affordable wholesale earbuds in bulk to minimize distractions and background noise. Headsets designed specifically for gaming, such as the ThinkWrite Victory 250XG Gaming Headset, can also add a layer of intrigue and excitement to educational video gaming in the classroom without breaking the bank. And budget-friendly deluxe headsets, like the AVID Products AE-79, offer accessible headset solutions for every student to experience gaming curriculum. With a wider variety of educational video game titles than ever before available for students of all ages, educators and parents can choose which games to purchase based on children’s individual educational needs.
In addition to hardware and software associated with video games, teachers can try to add a level of gamification to virtually any lesson being taught in their classrooms by assigning points for correct answers, awarding prizes for top achievers and “unlocking” various privileges for students who put in extra effort. The possibilities are limitless!
Whether or not you personally enjoy video games, there’s no denying that they have had a massive impact on child development for over four decades, and they’re not going anywhere. Why not embrace video gaming and use it to reach students for a positive, fun learning experience? Now’s the time to incorporate gaming into your classroom.