The Hidden Benefit of Video Games

Written by NPN Guest on February 11th, 2011

Homeschooling, Natural Learning, Reading
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Kaila's daughter enjoying a game with her brother.

Although my husband is a big proponent of video games, I have a hard time expressing anything but dislike for them. While he could play them from dawn till dusk, I on the other hand could never bring myself to waste so much brain space on something so mindless. Sure, they have their place in the world, especially for those times when you just don’t feel like doing anything but vegetating on the couch and numbing your mind. For the most part though, I have a very negative view of video games and thought absolutely nothing good could ever come from them. Or so I thought, until I braved the idea of letting my child play them.

I did it. My daughter asked to play video games, and I let her. This coming from the mom who doesn’t have cable television or even Disney movies. Somehow, I overcame my perceptions and allowed her to engage in a mind numbing video game. A number of horrible thoughts ran through my head as I handed over the controller, such as what a waste of time this was going to be, and how it would surely lead to a life of obesity and laziness. Naturally, my significant other was happy to show her what each button did and help explain general gaming techniques. I must also point out that she started with a game that does not show blood, guns or other violence and was relatively PG rated, not ultimately wanting the user to kill anyone at the end of the game. To this day, it is her favorite game.

Why do you want to hear about my daughter playing video games? Because it lead to an amazing discovery for both me and her. In the beginning, she was so excited to discover this world full of fun, cartoon images with very creative scenery and an interesting storyline. She asked for help often and asked for someone to read the text for her even more often. Over time, her questions became fewer and fewer. Eventually she stopped asking me to read the text and she began reading them aloud to herself and me. Wait, WHAT?! Did I just imply that this stupid time waster taught my child to read?

Prior to this game fascination, she received a typical exposure to reading and writing. Although we are homeschoolers, reading workbooks and busy work have never been a large part of our lives. We make trips to the library, read lots of books, answer questions, sing the ABC’s, and engage in typical parenting “reading readiness” activities. So why, at barely five and a half years old, did my daughter start reading? I believe she had a need and desire to. Mindless phonics workbooks did not give her a reason to learn to read, other than to finish the workbook and get a gold star. Real learning, I believe, stems from a genuine need to learn. My daughter wanted to be able to read the video game storyline without help. She wanted to be able to figure things out alone and not wait for an adult to show her, thereby giving her that next step towards independence.

And what has my role become in all of this? I am there to support her interest, and just as I followed her cues from infancy, I let her take the lead in determining what interests her. Had I continued my technophobia and aversion to my children playing video games, it may have taken a lot longer to achieve what is considered such a monumental step in childhood. I had to take that step in acknowledging her interest by actually letting her play, and then supporting her by reading when she asked me to. I learned to pay attention and realize this game was not a complete waste of brain space, because she was really learning something! She was ready and I was not going to hold her back. If there is no passion, no desire, and no real need to learn to read, it won’t happen; at least not authentically.

Photo Credit: Author

Kaila Halvorsen is a forever growing and learning human. She is the mother of two and is expecting a third with her wonderful significant other. She is dedicated to a life worth living, sharing and experiencing together through connections both big and small.

14 Responses to The Hidden Benefit of Video Games

  1. Jenn Collins @ Monkey Butt Junction  

    I was born in 1976, and when the Atari 2600 came out, I had one. I have no doubt that it was instrumental in my early development of hand-eye coordination, it facilitated turn-taking and patience, it helped me understand the value of a dollar at an early age because I was required to save my money if I wanted a new game, and it helped me discover problem-solving skills.
    Game have come so far since back then, I have no doubt that, in moderation, video games can be wonderful education devices.

  2. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama  

    Thanks for sharing! This is such an interesting perspective that I would not have thought of. I know my husband will also be more than willing to introduce our baby to video games and TV when he is older, so this makes me feel a lot better about it ;-)

  3. Jessica Lang @ Cloth Diapering Mama  

    thanks for writing this! We got a video game this Christmas that is connected to a bike. My son really likes it and has to pedal and count in order to progress in the game. I was against it at first, but the combo between exercise and learning numbers/words was a bonus for us because we don’t have a yard for him to play in. Now when I see that he is going a little stir-crazy in the house I have him jump on the bike and count how many peddles he can do in one minute. Glad I’m not the only mom allowing video games! ;)

  4. Michelle  

    I admit I will never understand the obsession my boys seem to have with their video games. I guess it can’t hurt them too much to play here & there, but just hate when they spend too much time playing them. We have such a busy schedule that I mostly don’t have to worry about it though.

  5. Amy  

    I clicked quickly to read this one :)

    I’m working through Nintendo DSi “stuff” right now with my two older kids. It is an interesting journey to live life within limits for health and well being while also allowing children to recognize and utilize the choices they have…

    Thank you for writing this article – it opens the mind to the potential available in the vast array of electronic gadgetry our kids enjoy interacting with.

  6. Kaila

    Learning comes from within, from a genuine desire to be curious and explore things until they make sense. For my daughter, she used the video game as a tool to expand her knowledge, another day it will be another tool. A book, a friend, a youtube acount, Legos, a vacation, a rainy day, an instrument, the library, anything can and is a learning experience!!! Giving my children the freedom to use the tools isn’t always easy, but always so worth it!

  7. Darcel @ The Mahogany Way  

    I love this post. I have fond memories of playing video games as a child with my family. It’s so much fun to watch my girls enjoy playing video games.

    I always love reading about the positives of video games. They really aren’t evil like people would like to believe.

  8. Heather  

    You know, it’s interesting how many people have a misconception of video games as mind-numbing or a waste of time. In fact, studies have shown that gamers perform better on tests, have more highly tuned decision making skills and superior hand-eye coordination. They most definitely have a tangible benefit. Achieving goals is a big one ;)

    Awesome story and good for you for giving her that chance!

  9. April

    I have accused my husband of playing mental gymnastics to convince me that video/computer games have any value or merit whatsoever. Although I can’t say that I am truly swayed in my opinion, I do think that a little balance is called for in this – for me. I still worry that too much gaming can be detrimental to social and other skills developing, but I think I might see a bit of daylight shining on the possibility of there being some good in a little bit. I=

  10. Kristin  

    Thanks for this! I also think that in moderation gaming can be a fun and come with learning benefits, too! I know as my girls get older I will have to work with them on moderation (and model it myself, ha ha) but for now they accept the limits I set.

    Can I ask what game/system your daughter liked so much? My oldest is really into storytelling and story games, so I am curious! I also want to check out the bike one mentioned in a comment upthread!

    • Kaila

      She plays Little Big Planet on the PlayStation3. Her favorite feature of the game right now is the My Moon. It gives her an opportunity to create her own levels, she absolutely amazes me with what she comes up with! Although it is not advertised as an “educational” game. Oh and it is multi player, our whole family can play together (bonus!)

  11. Momma Jorje

    Video games can certainly be good in ways. It sounds like it was a good bonding moment with Daddy there, too. (Sometimes those opportunities can be hard to find.)

    I’m glad someone else asked what game, I couldn’t believe you didn’t name it in your article! I love the Katamari series of games, especially for their non-violent aspect, though you can pick up humans and the king talks down to your character. We see humor in it.

    But then my 1yo isn’t old enough to even want to play yet. She has her own (broken) controller and likes to pretend sometimes.

  12. cassondra law  

    sounds like me! i am not a gamer. my husband is. i never wanted our son to get into it. but, my husband secretly ordered a toy story game for our son. they played together. and just as your daughter, my son started to learn new things! shapes, matching, colors, reading, etc. now, i’m okay with it. just as long as its toy story or something similar.

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