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Boy playing video game

did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • According to a 2005 survey, 76% of families set rules about what types of games their children can play.
  • Games with cartoon-style violence can send the message that violence is a good way to solve conflict. They can also make kids less sensitive to real-life violence, or make them overly fearful about violence in their own world.

Video games – children love them, but you’re not so sure. Here you can find out about the risks and benefits of video games, plus some ideas for choosing appropriate games and managing your child’s interest in playing them.

Video games: the basics

Video games are electronic, interactive games that come in many forms: CDs, DVDs, internet downloads and online games. They can be played on a personal home computer (PC), television or portable hand-held device.

Some games are controlled by a separate joystick or console. Others use the computer keyboard and/or mouse. Many games (including those online) can be played by several people at once.

The big name brands for video games are Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo.

Making the most of video games

The best way for your child to learn from video games is when you play together. An added bonus is that you’ll spend some time with each other and have fun!

Here are some ideas for making the most of video games with your child.

  • Set ground rules about screen time: screen time is the time you spend each day watching TV, DVD, computer and video game screens. It’s recommended that children aged 2-5 have a daily screen time limit of one hour, and children over five should have no more than two hours in front of the screen each day.
  • Aim for balance in your family activities: make sure that everyone has a go at physical activity, creative play and interactive social games. Talk with your children about getting the right balance between indoor play time, outdoor fun, homework and time spent with friends.
  • Get involved: asking your child to show you how a game works is the best way to tune into what he’s learning. Make a mental note of the kinds of games he enjoys and finds challenging; if he’s really enjoying a game about dinosaurs, for example, you can broaden his knowledge by finding books or movies on the topic.
  • Discuss: talk with your child about the games she’s playing, finding out what she likes or dislikes and what she would change or add to make them better. This kind of talk helps develop thinking skills.
  • Be informed: read reviews of the games you think might be suitable for your child. Make sure you carefully read the blurb on the game’s cover, and don’t forget to check the game’s rating - games rated G or PG are more likely to suit young children.
  • Borrow before buying: if possible, borrow games from a library, DVD store or a friend before making a purchase. You might find that your child isn’t interested in a particular game, or you don’t approve of the game’s content or concepts.
  • Choose games with learning value and positive messages. Ideally, games for kids should:
    • explore real, day-to-day activities
    • reveal fantasy worlds in creative, imaginative ways
    • teach that playing fairly is better than winning
    • provide opportunities to take turns and play as a team
    • have multiple levels of difficulty, so the game can evolve and your child can progress through its stages
    • be interactive and involve decision-making, giving your child an increased sense of control and independence
    • be able to be played by several players
    • not feature violent heroes.

Benefits of playing video games

Video games can have developmental, social and educational benefits. Benefits depend on the:

  • game’s content
  • amount of time spent playing the game
  • the way the game is set up – that is, whether it involves solitary or group play.
Developmental benefits Social benefits   Educational benefits
  • Hand/eye coordination
  • Motor skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Strategy and planning
  • Decision-making
  • Logic
  • Setting goals and achieving multiple objectives
  • Resource management
  • Multi-tasking
  • Responsiveness
  • Improved sense of self-esteem through mastering skills and progressing through levels
  • Team play
  • Team-building and collaboration
  • Learning a sense of fairness
  • Learning to take turns
  • Online interaction
  • Assist recall and information retrieval
  • Development of cognitive skills
  • Can embed school curriculum, such as maths concepts

Problems of playing video games

Moderation is the key to avoiding most problems associated with video games. Most risks associated with playing come from prolonged use.

Physical effects
The more common physical side effects caused by prolonged use are:

  • eye strain
  • headaches
  • repetitive strain injuries (RSI).

A very small number of game players have experienced epileptic seizures, and changes in heart rate and blood pressure.

Social and emotional effects
Unregulated gaming time can lead to obsessive behaviour, because some games can be addictive.

Another possible negative effect is a reduced capacity for empathy in children who play violent video games for long periods of time. This is especially true for boys.

Children who are unengaged or unenthusiastic about group activities and classroom instruction tend to be attracted to the solitary nature of video games, adding to possible existing antisocial tendencies.

Children who play video games for prolonged periods spend less time playing outdoors and more time sitting indoors. Excessive screen time is a major contributor to the rising levels of childhood obesity.

Violence in video games

Recent research tells us that playing violent video games can lead to negative effects in the short term and long term. These effects include increased aggressiveness.

Here are some questions you can ask about violence in video games:

  • Does the game involve some characters trying to harm others?
  • Is the harm rewarded in any way?
  • Does harm occur frequently in the game - say, more than once or twice in 30 minutes?
  • Is harm depicted as funny?
  • Are non-violent solutions absent or less fun than violent ones?
  • Are realistic consequences of violence absent from the game?

If the answer to two or more questions is ‘yes’, it’s worth considering the messages the game is sending about violence.

Studies have shown that children are less likely to play violent video games and behave aggressively if their parents are more involved in their play time.

Video game ratings
Games are classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) using the same classification system as films and videos:

  • G rating: there is very mild violence in games rated G. Content with this rating is produced for a general audience. It’s still important to check out games with a G rating yourself.
  • PG rating: parental guidance is recommended for content with this rating. These games are generally appropriate for children older than eight. They are accompanied by a standard description of violence or sexual content.
Ratings and classifications are helpful. But in the end it’s up to you to decide whether content is appropriate for your child.

Talking with your child about violence and games
Research tells us that talking with your child about games is a strategy for reducing negative impacts. Here are some questions you could raise with your child about violent content in video games:

  • Why do video games sometimes have violence, and how is real life different?
  • How are men and women and people from different ethnic backgrounds portrayed in these games? Are women always victims? How often are they main characters?
  • Is it a good or bad thing to be a bully?
  • Last updated or reviewed 15-03-2010