Are computer games a waste of time?

Video games can offer a robust learning environment that engages students. It can help them understand concepts otherwise challenging to grasp from traditional media


The impact of computer games, especially on young players, has been contentious since the beginning. We all recognize that play is a crucial phase in human development, hence why small children spend most of their time playing. They learn new concepts, explore possibilities in a safe environment, participate in role plays and hone their lifelong skills. But at one point, parents start viewing play as an utter waste of time and try to wean their children off it in favor of more “educational” tasks.

This passage is rather sad because, let’s face it, play is a fun way of learning new concepts. So why shouldn’t our system infuse together education and play, thus making it fun while reducing the learning effort? The reasons are multiple; first, it is easier said than done. There have been countless efforts to create edutainment systems that reach both objectives. The truth is that most of these systems are more educational than entertaining, thus failing miserably on the fun aspect, and the initial excitement soon wades away. The second is that the effort required to create a fun environment while integrating educational content is somewhat overwhelming. Very few educators successfully reconcile the two objectives, especially with older children. Third, many computer games have reached a high level of realism, and their quality is comparable to Holywood movies. However, although educators can easily use their content for learning activities, few gaming studios allow this, and even fewer make the leap towards education. So, unfortunately, many adults do not see the potential between education and gaming.

However, a few months back, a Swedish institute decided to study children’s screen habits and correlate them to their cognitive abilities over time. This is a crucial topic since screen time is increasing worldwide, and children start consuming digital content from a tender age. Over 9,000 children aged between nine and ten participated in the study, and all underwent rigorous psychological tests.

These tests allowed the researchers to gauge their level of intelligence before the start of the research project. Furthermore, the children had to note the time spent watching TV or online videos, engaging on social media, and playing video games. Their parents also validated the information provided.

Two years later, the children were contacted and asked to repeat the same psychological test, thus allowing researchers to note changes over time. To try to make the study as impartial as possible, the researchers took note of genetic differences, social background, educational support at home, and household income since these factors can affect intelligence. The study revealed that children spent around 2.5 hours watching TV, an hour on social media, and another hour playing video games daily.

Interestingly, children who played more games than average increased their intelligence by around 2.5 IQ points more than the rest. On the other hand, TV-watching or social media consumption resulted in no significant change.

Of course, it is essential to note that the study did not delve into other issues like the effect on physical activity, sleep, well-being, and school performance, all of which can be negatively affected by excessive gaming. But it does show that, in general, screen time doesn’t impact the child’s cognitive abilities negatively and that playing video games boosts intelligence. This result is also in line with other studies conducted worldwide.

Because of this, countries worldwide are considering introducing video games into the national curriculum. Poland is one such country that recently launched a “Games in Education” initiative. The idea behind it is to harness the popularity of specific games and use it to make students reflect on past historical events. One such example uses the Polish game “This War of Mine”.

In contrast to existing war games, the player does not interact as an elite soldier but as a civilian trying to survive a city under siege. He has to struggle with the hardships of war, including lack of food, medicine, and constant danger from enemy soldiers. The game provides the player with a whole new war experience, as seen from a previously unexplored civilian angle. Through such an experience, students learn to understand the effects of a conflict on a nation and its inhabitants. Whereas schools used games haphazardly in past years, the country decided to formally include them as part of the reading list for the first time. In this case, the government bought a license for every child and gave every student access to the online game. The developers also worked with the educators to create guidelines and lesson plans to help teachers prepare engaging lessons.

Video games can offer a robust learning environment that engages students. It can help them understand concepts otherwise challenging to grasp from traditional media. Most games offer the player a variety of skills ranging from decision-making to fast problem-solving. In essence, a game is a tool that can help us improve ourselves, but it all depends on how we use it!

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