Video Games: Good Gift or Not?

This holiday season, it’s likely you know someone who has put a video game or two on their present wish list. As early as July, I spotted companies already hyping up the new games they’ll release in December, while places like Forbes.com wrote their lists about the “Biggest Video Games of the Holiday Season” in October! Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection top their list.

For parents, there may be angst: are video games good or bad for their kids? Should they buy certain types? What about the violence in some?

Our 2014 Student Ambassador Jay Mathews, who was a Grade 10 student at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, DC, tackled this controversial topic in his Reflection essay. A gamer himself, he finds video games are a good way to have fun and blow off steam, but also, he argues, “video games have a lot of potential to teach useful skills and affect people positively.”

For evidence, he cites a 2012 study by health researchers at Deakin University in Australia which found that toddlers who play interactive games have better motor skills. In another study Keele University found that playing violent games can give a person a better tolerance for pain. And in a 2007 study, Mathews writes, “compared laparoscopic surgeons who play videogames with those who do not…When taking into differential accounts of age, years of medical training, and number of performed laparoscopic surgeries, the study founds surgeons who are gamers are 27 percent faster and make 37 percent fewer errors than those who are not.”

Since his essay was published, a new article on Science20.com was published in November detailing the ways that video games are good for your brain. Included in the list are how it can help improve reaction times, hand-eye coordination, spatial visualization, and perception, attention and cognition.

To address many people’s concerns about whether violence in the video games negatively impacts players, Mathews looks to a study conducted by Brock University graduate student Paul Adachi. The research found that violence in a video game is not enough to make someone aggressive. Instead, the competitive nature of a game – violent or not – was more influential in sparking aggression in a player.

Mathews concludes his essay by writing, “Gaming has its advantages and quirks. Although it is targeted as a lazy and sometimes violent activity, I believe that instead it is important and has potential. It an activity that makes the United States $8 billion annually in revenue, serves as a hobby for thousands of kids and adults, and hones kids’ skills that can open doors to amazing occupations in the future.”

If you agree they have value and you need to find a game for someone on your Christmas list, here are 5 kid-friendly, popular video games, 10 educational video games, and the list of the best-selling video games of 2014.

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