To play or not to play, this is the problem!

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that games are just for kids. Many companies are investing in game-based learning methodologies, whereby serious games place employees in particular situations and help them learn


Play is an essential activity in the development of many young animals. Humans too spend most of their initial years playing. A 2020 study commissioned by  Mattel Inc. showed that doll play activated regions within the brains associated with social information processing and empathy.

It means that children perform social skills, over and over again, even when playing on their own. Computer games too help children develop essential skills such as reading and writing, since some games have textual instructions or chats. Visual-spatial skills such as distance and space; especially when navigating 3D virtual worlds like Minecraft. Problem-solving which lies at the heart of most video-games and so much more.

However, as children grow, many parents discourage their kids from playing games. Games are considered by many as timewasters. Parents see little or no value in them and are afraid that their children spend more time playing games than studying. Worse than that, parents fear that their children develop some form of gaming addiction and become violent. Gaming can be such a problem that in 2019, the World Health Organisation decided to add Gaming Disorder within the list of behavioural addictions.

So should you get worried if your child is playing video games? It depends. Games are much more influential than other mediums. Avatars are customised to resemble the player, open worlds allow the player to be free, and the various missions offer the player multiple rewards—all of this from the comfort of the living room. So no other medium (being Cinema, TV, Books, etc.) can offer such a fulfilling experience. But as anything else, problems arise when a player takes this activity to the extreme. A common side effect of this is that children have trouble paying attention at school, and eventually, their grades drop. Thus, parents should be vigilant; they should limit the use of video games to specific time windows, and they must ensure that their children get a good dose of other activities as well (such as sports, dancing, drama, etc.).

Should you get worried if your child plays violent games? Once again, it depends on the game. Many games offer similar mechanics—a character shooting at something else and killing it. What changes typically is the realism of the graphics used. In games like Minecraft, Fortnite or Call of Duty (COD) you can kill other players. But in Minecraft, characters are made up of blocks, which flash red and disappear in thin air when they die. In Fornite, cartoon characters glow white and disintegrate into blocks when they get killed. In COD, avatars are realistic and die with splashes of blood coming out of their body. That is why Minecraft has an age restriction of 7, Fortnite 12 and COD 18 years old. These age restrictions are a good indication, and guardians should follow them. But in reality, it all depends on the maturity of the child. Researchers could not find any significant correlation between acts of violence (such as mass shootings) and video games. Studies have also shown that most children can distinguish between a character on the screen and themselves. However, if a child is already disturbed or easily influenced, then, of course, video games (like any other media such as movies) will only make the situation worse.

Essentially, as long as the child does not exaggerate and plays games adequate for his age, then there shouldn’t be any problems. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) is suggesting the use of video games during such turbulent times when social activities are severely restricted. If games were so bad as some people portray them, I’m sure the WHO would not recommend them at all! Games can offer a medium through which people can interact with each other in a fun way while observing social distance rules. They allow for socialisation, character development and fun. Playing games can also be a way of getting different family members together, thus helping them bond even further.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking that games are just for kids. Many companies are investing in game-based learning methodologies, whereby serious games place employees in particular situations and help them learn. These could range from scenario testing (such as cooking simulators for chefs) to virtual laboratories (such as the protein puzzle game called Foldit). But games can also have a more powerful effect on humans. Research at the University of Malta has shown that a Virtual Reality game can help patients feel less pain without taking any medications. It works by distracting the brain so that it focuses on the game rather than on the pain signals which it receives.

As you can see, games have both positive and negative effects. Like anything else, it all depends on how and how much you use them. However, as the World Health Organisation recommended, if you follow the guidelines and use games responsibly, they are not only safe but also provide users with endless hours of social fun.

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