If you've been reading my posts for some time now, you would have guessed that I'm a gamer. Is that something to be ashamed of? I don't think so. It's just another hobby for me, a diversion, like a lot of other things, like this blog for example. Me, a 32 year old grown man...and I still play video games. While there are those who keep dissin' video games for being a waste of time, addictive, promotive of violence and potentially harmful to kids, I am certainly not one of them...to a point of course, which I will explain further as we go along.
My eight year old kid likes to play video games as well. In fact, I believe that video games can have a positive effect on children, as long as there are limits.
It is well established that video games improve hand-eye coordination. They are also known to improve problem-solving skills, and teaches them careful risk-taking. It helps social skills as well (particularly during multi-player gaming sessions that the players have to cooperate with each other) and helps me and my kid bond (either when we play cooperatively or against each other) since its a common interest between us. Lastly, I believe that it provides a way for kids to be introduced and exposed to technology.
Whether we like it or not, technology will play even a larger part in their lives than it did in ours, and their success in the future may very well in part depend on their ability to adapt to it, and to use technology effectively in whatever field they choose. Being exposed to technology at an early age eliminates all the mystery, and makes them all the more eager to learn about it, and more capable of integrating it with their lives if necessary.
But of course, there are certain caveats that we have to be aware and careful about. There are indeed extremely violent video games out there, which are meant for a mature and more discerning audience. Kids should definitely not be allowed to play these games. Examples are Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, which are meant to be played by adults. Here's a small tip that you may find helpful in this regard. Before choosing a game for your child to play, check out the ESRB rating. You'll be able to tell if a game is appropriate for your child's age or not.
It also goes without saying that anything done to excess will definitely be bad for you, video gaming included. Playing video games should not be done to the exclusion of other worthwhile activities, such as playing outside, biking, reading, and studying. Set rules, and make sure your child follows them.
Lastly, video games, like too much TV, make a bad substitute for proper parenting. More often than not, we sometimes tend to use such technological conveniences as baby sitters, as a way of occupying our child's attention while we do some other things. We should never take our responsibilities as parents for granted.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that gaming done within reasonable limits can be a very fun and worthwhile activity, and maybe even teach kids a thing or to. We just have to make sure they don't play too much.
(Originally posted May 22, 2005 on Quaere Verum.)