Just make sure you have enough controllers.
Video games are one of the more common villains in the lives of parents. Admittedly, the stats can sound worrisome: according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the average gamer spends 8 hours a week playing video games, with 25% of those gamers under the age of 18. Whereas once skis and tennis rackets and bicycles were the desired childhood gifts –helping to teach courage, camaraderie, hard work, and resilience — today’s kids want Xboxes and PlayStations. What’s a parent to do?
Buy them video games.
In her book SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal — one of the leading researchers in game design and a senior researcher at Stanford’s Institute for the Future — reveals how playing video games can bring about many of the same neurological benefits as those gained from old school toys. Drawing upon cutting edge research, she shares how video games can help us navigate some of the most difficult parts of our lives, like stress, depression, injury and illness. McGonigal explains how anyone can use games to enhance their day-to-day life and train their brain to be positive, sharp, and creative.
Of course, which games are played make a difference. Below are five games McGonigal recommends in her book for their positive psychological benefits.
- Hedgewars: This silly game about pink hedgehogs in an intergalactic space battle can actually foster synchronicity of body movements, heart rate, and facial expressions when people play together. This builds empathy and facilitates social bonding–meaning it might be a great way to connect with a surly teenager or a shy 9 year-old.
- Tetris: The classic game has been shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD by occupying the visual processing circuitry of the brain. It can override involuntary flashbacks of unpleasant images, so if violent news images or scary movies disturb your children just ten minutes of absorbing gameplay can help push those troubling thoughts away. It even helps with non-visual stressors, simply because an absorbing game can help take the brain over much like meditation.
- Final Fantasy: This strategic game can encourage effective information gathering, intelligent evaluation of multiple options, plan formulation and execution, and creativity in reaching goals. Similar games include Mass Effect and StarCraft, both of which can improve players’ strategizing abilities.
- Call of Duty: Fast-paced action games like COD (Forza and Grand Theft Auto are other popular choices) can improve visual attention and spatial intelligence, both of which contribute to success in science, technology, math, and engineering fields. The constant stream of information can teach players to track multiple streams of information simultaneously, and foster good decision making skills in high-stress, fast-paced situations. Of course, violent video games aren’t appropriate for children of all ages and there are some downsides. Playing competitive, destructive games against strangers can actually increase testosterone and reduce sympathy for strangers. If you’re playing a game like Call of Duty, make sure it’s with friends.
- Super Mario: Platform games like Super Mario can drastically improve mood and decrease anxiety. Plus, as a game that’s often played in a group it can help build cooperative mindsets and improve communication skills.