Video Games are Good for Kids

by Brad Nelson   12/4/13

That is, at least, the claim of researchers in the Netherlands. Anyway, here’s some more “scientific” baloney for you to sift through this morning. The following is from a Nicole Bailey article: Shooter Video Games Can Be Good For Children:

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The study, titled “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” was conducted by researchers at the Netherlands-based Radboud University Nijmegen and will be published in the American Psychologist. The implications are massive, considering 97% of children and adolescents in the US play at least one hour of video games per day.

Although the scientists examined many types of video games, the most surprising findings surrounded the positive consequences of shooter games like Halo 4 and Grand Theft Auto IV. The methodology is compelling (bolding mine):

The most convincing evidence comes from the numerous training studies that recruit naive gamers (those who have hardly or never played shooter video games) and randomly assign them to play either a shooter video game or another type of video game for the same period of time. Compared to control participants, those in the shooter video game condition show faster and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing, and enhanced mental rotation abilities…

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First off, this intelligent crowd here at StubbornThings is bound to note the entirely materialist lens through which this Netherlands study is being filtered (or at least presented here by Bailey). Common sense will tell you that, yes, setting kittens on fire will probably give you some proficiency in pyrotechnics. But is such proficiency the only consideration? Might not there be some psychological, social, or moral harm to these games? Because such things are harder to quantify (as is typical for science), those questions then tend to get ignored.

I happen to think that limited time at playing even quite violent video games is harmless, particularly to boys. It’s very normal for the male of the species to get a sense of fun from danger, adventure, risk, and combat. That this can be done in the safe confines of a video game is probably a cause for celebration. If it scratches an itch that doesn’t have to be played out in the real world, all the better.

I’m not sure that how it actually works out. But those impulses for danger and adventure are already there. Playing a video game doesn’t create them. My non-scientific hunch is that it’s the amount of time spent playing these games (and therefore time away from doing much richer and necessary activities) that is the real harm. Even if one were spending five hours a day playing Solitaire, that’s not a good thing either. Kids should not be allowed to be couch potatoes.

That said, it’s a crazy world out there, especially for kids. I do not begrudge some socially awkward kid from finding joy and adventure from playing games online. Given how absolutely stupid, vulgar, dumbed-down, and sometimes outright dangerous kids are these days, it may not be such a bad thing for a kid — socially awkward or otherwise — to carve out a safe, congenial, and like-minded space in cyberspace with other gamers. And many, if not most, of these games are regularly played online with other mostly anonymous players.

But the exception shouldn’t prove the rule. Two hours a day — tops — is probably all that any kid should spend playing any type of video game. Parents can acknowledge and make use of the attraction of computers and hi-tech by allowing kids to earn video game time, earning that time in a one-to-one ratio with time spent doing productive things on the computer such as programming, web design, or creative writing (and, no, Facebook doesn’t count for any of these).

But if we do place value on the skills learned by playing combat-style video games, we may have one heck of a potential for a new-style elite army of drone-flyers as the U.S. military necessarily becomes a more remote-controlled agency. Whether these dumbed-down and morally-confused kids will know who the real enemy is is another question, and an important one as we see in regards to Obama and his ilk.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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13 Responses to Video Games are Good for Kids

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I think I’ve previously heard the notion that game-playing helps hand-eye coordination, so they probably are useful. Of course, they don’t teach, except the subliminal message, which is made worse by often being a bad message (such as rewarding criminal behavior). But that depends on the game.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, some of the games as pretty vulgar. Speaking of which, I was trying to watch “Bad Santa” last night. I couldn’t make it through more than 10 minutes. I had heard that it was funny. But that movie is made for a crude, vulgar, and obnoxious people with no taste and no class. If I just offended someone, I heartily apologize. Sort of. 😀

      Speaking of video games, I’ve been playing Star Wars Episode 1 Racer on my Dreamcast. It’s probably the best platform to play it on and it’s a pretty good game although in the movie it felt like just a run-on advertisement for another Lucas-marketed game, which is what it was.

      I’ve tried playing some of the various military-combat-style games and they are just too difficult for me. Yes, yes. I realize my 9-year-old nephew is an ace. But whoever invented those awkward controllers for the Xbox or Playstation ought to be shot. Even the pros will usually opt for a keyboard and mouse. It’s just very hard to have fine control with those controllers. So that, more than anything, excludes me from playing them and perhaps someday going Postal because of all the exposure to violence.

  2. Kung Fu Zu says:

    “I do not begrudge some socially awkward kid from finding joy and adventure from playing games online”

    The problem with this is that it is generally better for socially awkward kids to learn how to fit in and adjust to society. In the past, such children might read a book, not a bad use of time. But today, we are making it increasingly easier for children to avoid social interaction. Will the result be that more kids have no idea how to act in civil company?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      But today, we are making it increasingly easier for children to avoid social interaction.

      Part of my point, Mr. Kung, is that in many places, social interaction sucks. 😀 But it was just a theoretical example. But I can certainly imagine some black kid living on a violent Democratic plantation somewhere (maybe Detroit) and it being a blessing that there was something to do other than “social interaction.”

      My premise — nay, the premise for this entire site — is that unplugging from what passes for society is a good thing. Video games (too much of them, anyway) may contain their own problems. But in some regards they (and online interaction in general) could be considered shelter from the storm.

      I’ve watched kids play Mind Craft. They often prefer that (at times) to more violent video games. They love building stuff. There are many things you can do with computers and video games that you can’t do anywhere else. And the systems are relatively cheap.

      There’s certainly a danger of a disconnect. But that is one of the prime (and, I would say, unfounded) criticisms of home-schooling, that the kids will somehow not be socialized. But, good god, unless joining in on Lord of the Flies in a state school system is considered “socializing,” it seems to me that kids could do with less of that.

      I know the culture is crazy right now and getting crazier. We’re all taking refuge one way or another. I mean, I guess I could get out more myself and socialize. But, Jesus, have you been to a bar lately? These people are animals. I have more meaningful conversations with a golden retriever. Or should I go to some swank libtard coffee house in Seattle? Not only would that be a waste of time, but there is a good chance of being dumbed-down merely by being in the presence of those libtards.

      In some ways, the computer is rational in a way the people never are. I guess that’s why so many people have pets. They are kind, loving, loyal, and easy-going in ways people rarely are. Certainly that’s part of the fun of programming. People are irrational. And they become tiring. But computers, if you are clever, will do exactly what you tell them to.

      I’ll also say that what passes for being “socialized” today means turning into a vacuous libtard. Oh, there are plenty of exceptions. But I’m partial to the escapist aspect of video games even though I don’t play them a lot.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        As a former computer programmer, I can assure you that the problem is that they do what you tell them, which isn’t always what you meant to tell them to do.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Interesting. What language were you using?

          I’ve mostly just dabbled, although I did create a commercial utility (a calendar/note keeper) for the Mac a few years ago. Other than that, I’ve mostly dabbled in BASIC, HyperTalk (a scripting program for Apple), a bit of Pascal, a tiny bit of assembly on the 6502, and logo.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Most commonly I ended up using assembly language of one sort or another, with quite a bit of COBOL as well. In later years I also did quite a bit of BASIC. In my high school/college days I also used FORTRAN at time.

            But that all ended in 2000, as a contract worker for my former employer. (They dealt primarily in factory automation, and I was one of 2 main programmers on the “old system”.)

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Yes, computers will do what you tell them to do, but not necessarily what you want. The same with people. But computers are easier to debug.

              I started out in Atari BASIC on my Atari 800 computer where it was built-in. But because it read that it was such a sucky-suck BASIC, I later bought Microsoft Basic (on 5″ floppy disks). It was a much better version of BASIC. But the truth is, I never delved very deeply into any of the languages. I just liked learning them and playing around with them.

              But then came HyperCard for the Macintosh in 1987. I was immediately hooked. It’s a powerful English-like scripting language. Such natural-language programming languages have troubles of their own. Some, such as AppleScript, try to mimic English just for the sake of doing so. They can thus become harder than a more “primitive” language to learn and use because with a more “primitive” language, once you learn the basics of it, it will indeed do exactly what you want it to do. No ambiguity.

              HyperTalk (the scripting language of the HyperCard program — used to build the game, Myst, for example) fell nicely in between. Still, to this day, I am baffled by AppleScript. I can’t quite put it into words, but it tries so hard to be natural-language-like that you can’t figure out how the hell to do anything. That is, I think, because when working with computers and languages one must think in terms of procedures and algorithms. There is no getting around that, nor would you want to. But AppleScript actually makes programming precise and distinct algorithms much more difficult because the logic of the language (such as it ever is) is obscured by trying to be TOO user-friendly.

              It was an offshoot of HyperCard (SuperCard) that allowed me to write a small shareware utility for OS X. I’d hate to hell for a professional programmer to see behind the scenes to my programming because it’s not very eloquently or efficiently done. But I was starting from scratch and sort of winging it. No pre-planned flow-charts or anything like that.

              And that technique can work fine for very small projects where much of the planning is inside your head and your proceed by intuitive feel. But without a more overarching guiding principle for larger projects, it’s very easy to churn out spaghetti code. I’m sure that is partly what is behind Obamacare’s poor website, for example.

              But I did end up writing a suite of applications in HyperTalk (for HyperCard) that I still use to run many of the functions of my business, including print estimating, job control, and record keeping. The code is inelegant compared to some HyperTalk stuff I’ve seen (perhaps most of the stuff I’ve seen). But it’s rock-solid and works. It’s been working for over 20 years now. Beats the hell out of those kludgy software programs that cost thousands of dollars, at least for my modest needs.

              As I understand it, FORTRAN was not only a scientific language but perhaps the predominant one at one time for general programming. And then perhaps it was Pascal that took over in that regard. It’s my understanding that Pascal was the standard language that everyone was taught. But now some for of C is the default, C++, I believe.

      • Kung Fu Zu says:

        It may be good to unplug from much of what society considers good, but, sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.

        I wonder how many of those black kids living in Detroit are playing computer games? I have no statistics on this, but something tells me that in terms of percentages fewer black kids are getting callused thumbs from spending time playing video games than white or Asian kids.

        And in this case, the problem is not one of kids learning how to socialize, it is one of getting them into a civil society.

        As to unplugging from society, since man is a social animal, I say this is an exercise in futility. What every person must do is try to find that part of society which is most congenial to oneself and, hopefully, this part of society will not be made up of thieves, slackers, liars, cowards, politicians and murders, at least not too many of them. One’s circle may be larger or smaller, yet one must have a circle unless one is a hermit sitting out in the Mohave or some such place.

        This blog is a piece of my social circle. Not large, but large enough for my tastes.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          As to unplugging from society, since man is a social animal, I say this is an exercise in futility. What every person must do is try to find that part of society which is most congenial to oneself and, hopefully, this part of society will not be made up of thieves, slackers, liars, cowards, politicians and murders, at least not too many of them.

          I agree. But I failed to keep the politicians out of my circle of friends. 😀

  3. faba calculo says:

    Even if video games help kids “on average”, I think that wise parent knows that they aren’t raising “the average” kid but rather one particular child. Thus, this type of decision can only made on a case-by-case basis. If more kids benefit from video games than are hurt by it, that is, of course, a good thing. But it’s not what parents are primarily interested in, nor should it be.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I do think parents need to take this on a case-by-case basis. I know my brother limits the time his son can have playing video games. But the damnedest thing is, as he readily admits, his youngest can spend a couple hours playing Modern Warfare or some other game like that (where the purpose is simple combat…one side trying kill the other) and he generally doesn’t get wound up about it. He can go from that to petting the kitten.

      But sometimes the kids do get a little wound up, and that’s when parents (as my brother does) intervene. I think some of these games can just become too crude, vulgar, and coarse so that any amount of time on them is not good. There are video games that kids should spend zero time on. But, generally speaking, I think the element here is just parents being wise parents and keeping watch on this stuff and putting limits on it.

      Luckily my brother is not a libtard so he doesn’t freak out at the very idea of virtual warfare and pixelated guns. But some parents do. And if one has parents such as that then video games are probably the least of that kid’s problems.

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