Wednesday, 9 March 2011

6 PERMAnent side effects of gaming!

As my post Encouraging kids to game is most successful, I thought I'd expand some more on the ideas behind encouraging kids to game. I learned more from Jane McGonigal's DICE talk, that you can watch on G4TV. Don't forget to read the G4 blog post as well, which offers an excellent summary of the talk. There are interesting parallels between gamer superpowers and the things that are essential for people to be happy. So, if nothing else, gaming makes people and children happy. But there are also some side-effects to gaming that have been discovered by credible research and should make us take note.

There is plenty of (pseudo-)scientific research into the question whether playing violent video games makes gamers more violent in the real world. Combine that with plenty of anecdotal evidence on parenting forums and the media, and there does appear to be some correlation between playing violent games and committing real violent acts. You don't have to look far to find someone who asserts that every single problem child they've encountered, played video games. But 99% of boys in the US under age 18 regularly play 5 days a week, and 94% of girls. So in fact, nearly all children game: those with behavioural issues, but also the rest of the class including the bright and helpful model children.

Kids do spend an awful lot of time gaming. On average, by the time they're 18, they've gamed for 10 000 hours, the same amount of time they spend in school. When you spend that much time doing something, there must be some effects on you, it must form you in some way. Jane McGonigal thought the same, but rather than look at the research that focused on violence and other negative consequences, she looked at other side effects of gaming. Incidentally, the book Grand Theft Childhood, does explore the research that supports the violent video games cause violence theory. Most of this research was not very reliable due to the investigation methods used or due to the 'results' being fixed in advance. They did uncover that in cases of behavioural problems and violent behaviour, excessive gaming combined with social withdrawal was usually a symptom of the underlying problems (such as depression, bullying, trauma...) that was actually at the root of the unacceptable behaviour. They also noted that almost all children game and that there is usually more cause for concern with the one child who doesn't game, because they're clearly not participating in an activity that is so important to their peers.

Back to some of the side effects of gaming.

1. Games make you have a better relationship with your parents. Kids who play games with parents, especially daughters, are more likely to talk to their parents about anything. They have less social problems.

2. Kids who play cooperative or constructive games are three to four times more likely to spend time in the real world helping other people. This effect lasts for a full week after an hour of game play.

3. Games encourage us to do more and try new things in the real world. 67% of gamers report that they were inspired to pick up a real instrument after playing a music or rhythm game. 72% of musicians said it got them back into playing their own instruments more.

4. If you play a game with an attractive avatar for only 90 seconds, then for the next 24 hours you'll feel better about yourself in the real world. People felt good enough about their own appearance to have the confidence to pick more attractive people to flirt with. This confidence also helped them in their work life.

5. In a study of coping mechanisms for soldiers in Afghanistan, the activity that provided the most mental benefit was spending 3 to 4 hours a day gaming. The only thing that was better was working out at a gym for 5 to 6 hours per day, which is less likely to be an amount of time or effort that people will willingly expend. (For people who are not under extraordinary stress, Jane's research suggests playing between 7-21 hours a week. When playing more than that, real-life goals and relationships do start to suffer).

6. Gamers reported the lowest incidence of nightmares. Games may affect our thought processes to allow us to be empowered while dreaming.

So gaming isn't really a waste of time, or escapist. It powers up our real lives, improves our relationships, makes us nicer people, improves our self-image and self-esteem, encourages us to take on real-world challenges, helps us remain mentally healthy when under strain, and empowers our minds.

Gaming also makes us happy. Non-game related research into happiness, reveals that people need 4 things to be happy, condensed into the acronym PERMA:

Positive Emotion

Seem familiar when you compare it to McGonigal's gamer superpowers?

Urgent optimism
Social fabric 
Epic meaning 
Blissful productivity

I want my kids to be happy people who are creative, helpful members of society with plenty of friends. I want them to be confident about their abilities and have a positive self-image. I want them to set and achieve their goals and try new things. I work on having a good relationship with them. So... I encourage them to spend time gaming.

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