Parents have a negative image of video games. We hear about the potential link between violent video games and violent behavior, the presence of socially unacceptable language and bullying in game chats and the growing concern about the effects of screen time on our children. Parents often focus on the negative effects of games and may be misled by the research to which they are exposed.
For example, the effect of violent video games on aggression in adolescents has varied in research and may vanish when considering other factors, such as family environment. If you are a parent who is concerned about the impact of violent games on your child, you are likely starting from a good position to teach your child right from wrong.
When it comes to massively multiplayer online games, the online text and voice chats may contain aggressive, vulgar and bullying language to which you would not want your child exposed. Although there are measures to prevent or limit this type of language, there is no way to ensure your child will not be exposed to or participate in it.
While aggressive language may be more heavily associated with particular types of games, where competitive play is the goal, there are games that promote cooperative play and promote knowledge sharing in chats. Despite the concerns about violent and competitive games, it is important to note that there are links between playing these types of games and other positive outcomes, including cooperative or collaborative learning, problem solving and spatial reasoning.
Violence and aggression tend to be what parents think of when they discuss the impact of games on their children. However, there is an increasing number of serious games available, which are games designed as educational tools or games with serious impacts.
For instance, there are games that teach foreign languages, history, anatomy and math and range in target audiences from infants to adults. Serious games have been designed as training tools and simulations for jobs, including performing difficult surgeries. Serious games allow players to learn complex material in an environment where it is safe to fail. Chats in serious games are often structured around helping others to learn how to play the game or to share what should be learned in the game.
Universities have created game design programs and, more specifically, serious games and simulations programs aimed at training future game developers for jobs that are projected to see growth. Virtual and augmented reality technologies are increasing the ability for games to teach with greater realism and in locations that did not permit such learning.
Gaming is increasing and will not be going away. Remember that not all games are violent or competitive games, nor do these games only result in negative outcomes. It is important for parents to be aware of what their children are playing and what alternatives might exist. Pointing them in the direction of serious games may benefit them in learning new skills.
Steven Sutherland, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at University of Houston-Clear Lake. His two research areas are exploring factors that affect decisions to use automated systems by human users and the design of serious games.