The Frustratingly Unavoidable Draw of Video Games

June 23rd, 2014

Here’s a little “virtual” reality for you: Video gaming is a more than 25 billion dollar industry. That’s twice as much money as Hollywood movies make each year.

Gaming has a massive influence on children—an estimated 99 percent of kids play an hour a day (that’s according to Psychology Today, but I can’t believe it’s that high). The draw of video games is strong…certainly enough to decrease the number of boys who participate in team sports and civic clubs.

My son showed me a 14-minute video a few days ago “Why We Play Games”…to help me understand/tolerate why he can play hours on end. I tried; I really did, to remain open-minded and accepting. I tried. But even the most compelling case, backed by science, can not convince me that staring at a screen—even a fascinating one-will ever offer the benefits of playing outside with others, or even alone!

Clinical Psychologist and gaming developer Dr. Scott Rigby asserts in Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound asserts that video game playing “fulfills three core needs”:

1. Competence

2. Autonomy

3. Relatedness

Gaming may provide children—if you believe Rigby— an experience of COMPETENCY by letting them develop mastery; learning, growing and progressing as they rise up levels in a video game. But I assert that, in a very real not at all virtual world, you get a more powerful and personal sense of competency by becoming a more masterful reader, hitter or kicker.

AUTONOMY, the book claims, is accomplished by video gaming because it gives players the sense they have control over their actions and the world around them. They get to “choose their own adventures.” At this moment, as I am researching the validity of these claims, my son is next to me playing Skyrim, cited as a perfect example of a game that allows you to choose aspects of your appearance, home and quest.

RELATEDNESS (I really can barely discuss this one without rolling my eyes) applies to multiplayer games, where kids (some from other countries! It’s like the United Nations!) talk through headsets working together to finish a mission.

Dutch researchers suggest that not only do the newer video games provide young people with compelling social, cognitive, and emotional experiences; they also can potentially boost mental health and well-being.

Gamers wrote all of this, trust me. Gamers with psychology degrees.

Well, guess what? Here’s three more key needs (not already discussed and proven by Skyhawks through 30 years of camps) fulfilled by young people playing on teams.

1. Intensity

2. Continuity

3. Balance

INTENSITY: according to Psychology Today, (yea, more psychologists!) “With greater time commitment, children develop better mastery of skills and superior knowledge of tactics and strategy”…leading to “the development of strategic thinking…including the ability to find and excel in the job market.”

CONTINUITY: While sporadic or intermittent participation is better than no playing, a commitment to team sports over teaches kids to “overcome challenges and obstacles in their performance,” as well as “opportunities to interact with teammates, learning to cope with the interpersonal challenges of working with others.”

BALANCE refers to children participating in activities that present real-world challenges, like volunteering in their communities, achieve greater developmental benefits. These activities encourage youth to develop a civic identity and see a world beyond a game of winning and losing.

Want to go deeper into the study of the long-term benefits and even potential pitfalls of long-term involvement in youth sports? Paradoxes of Youth and Sport, by Margaret Getz.

Oh, and sorry, son, I still don’t get it. Let's go shoot baskets.

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