Australia is a nation of gamers, with students leading the way. According to statistics from 2021, 82% of children 5-14 years old play video games, with that figure rising to 86% for teenagers and young adults aged 15-24. In fact, a whopping 92% of households have at least one gaming console.
In this context, it is no surprise that gaming regularly comes under scrutiny, as electronic device use in school becomes the norm and various programs are used to gamify education in order to drive engagement—and that’s even before we touch on after-school use.
As with most topics, this one is complex and has many different variables. We will take a look at some of the benefits of gaming, as well as some of the downsides, and then look at tips that parents and teachers can use to encourage healthy gaming.
Video Games in Education — Pros and Cons
As mentioned above, with devices becoming a staple of the classroom, the ability for students to encounter online learning activities that incorporate gaming —whether self-directed or driven by the teacher—has grown. After school, students then go home to play games in their leisure time. While the negative arguments are usually more prominent in this debate, there are also a range of stated benefits which we can explore.
Educational Benefits of Video Games
If you are worried about your child’s gaming habits, some of these positive arguments might help you to see the issue in a new light.
Development of New Skills
Video games can be a rich source of stimulation, helping to improve areas such as memory, concentration, critical thinking, and even motor skills. This is exemplified by a well-known study published in 2017 that showed a positive correlation between gaming and results when performing keyhole surgery among new medical graduates.
Deeper Experiential Learning
It is known that people can better retain information when it is connected to a story or experience. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the UK mandated successive lockdowns, tutors from the University of Edinburgh in the Zoology department created Project Millport, which would replicate the experience of conducting fieldwork within the popular game Minecraft. This proved successful, with students able to collect data, collaborate, and get a sense of what the fieldwork would entail—all while working within a game.
Promotion of Social and Language Skills
Many games now are online and multiplayer, giving children the ability to interact with others domestically and globally. While of course there are obvious risks we will examine in the next section, positives include communicating with a wide range of people, feeling a sense of belonging with others due to a shared interest, and for language learners, the ability to gain exposure to their target language in a low-stress environment.
Negative Effects of Video Games on Students and their Education
As expected, such a multi-faceted issue invites a whole range of considerations, which brings us to some of the negative consequences.
Reflecting a consensus reached by a range of experts, addiction—or gaming disorder—has been included into the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. While it stresses that gaming disorder is only experienced by a small percentage of the gaming population, it is nonetheless something to be wary of.
Spending too much time gaming is obviously at the expense of other activities, and can lead to problems to do with sleeping, behaviour, socialisation, and hygiene, just to name a few.
Poorer Physical Health and Cognitive Function
Time spent gaming in the classroom and at home could be at the expense of doing an activity that would require more physicality, which is not only detrimental to the body, but also to the mind. Research shows that movement increases blood flow to the brain, promotes the production of new brain cells, and aids with the creation of new synapses.
While progressive education frowns on the “chalk and talk” of traditional learning, there is something to be said for focusing on the basics of reading and writing without any screens and the extra stimulation that comes from them. The use of motor skills in addition to the cognitive skills found in the physical act of handwriting has been shown to increase recall and recognition of words being learnt by students. In some circumstances, even gaming in the classroom that is well-designed and monitored may not bring about as good outcomes as a simple pen and paper activity.
According to the Australian e-safety commissioner, around 17% of gamers experienced in-game bullying when interacting with multiplayer games, which equates to around 200,000 young Australians. While bullying came long before technology, gaming has allowed it to become more disguised, and even brought into the family home once the school day is out.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
So, we can clearly see that there are many arguments to weigh up, but this doesn’t change the fact that screens are a non-negotiable part of our modern world. In fact, a 2021 article from Australia’s Tech Guide website states that average screen use among young people is 7 hours a day. Is this too much? With screens now a big part of our classrooms and a necessity when interacting with basic services, it’s hard to say.
Rather than the amount of time spent, guidelines for healthy use are now talking about things we can do to limit the negative effects of time spent in front of the screen, which include:
- Encouraging frequent breaks.
- Ensuring physical activity remains a priority.
- Limiting screen time before bed.
- Lowering brightness settings in darker environments.
Healthy Gaming Habits for Kids
As we have explored, students can definitely benefit from gaming in the classroom, yet there are risk factors that need to be mitigated, which is where the responsible adult comes in.
Here are some tips for both parents and teachers in establishing healthy habits for children and teens gaming.
Understand What the Game Is
Understanding the game allows the adult to understand whether it offers a rich learning environment, or is best played sporadically; purely for leisure purposes. These questions can be used as a starter:
- What type of game is it (puzzle, strategy, shooter, sports)?
- Is there problem-solving required?
- How long is it being played for?
- Is the game multiplayer?
- How much communication is required?
- What is the aim of playing?
Make Sure the Game is Played in a Shared Space
Making sure that you can observe what is happening is important, especially for young children who aren’t as aware of cyber safety. Incidents of bullying or grooming can be more easily spotted and dealt with by an adult, provided they have the visibility.
Set Up Rules for Gaming
Even if children aren’t strictly addicted, setting rules for play so that gaming doesn’t interfere with meal and bed times, or the completion of homework and household tasks is good practice.
Avoid Games with In-App Purchases and Pop-Up Ads
Many free games have payment features built in and/or contain pop-up advertisements for other games. These games are best avoided; however, if they can’t be, it’s good to have a conversation with your child about what the implications are of in-game purchases and why pop-up ads can be dangerous.