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I've been fairly against video games for my daughters (10,11,11) but I'm starting to rethink that. Currently their total "Screen Time" is limited. I might let (or even facilitate/encourage) them to shift some of their TV time to computer time if I can find an appropriate game. It's got to be better than the drivel they watch on TV.)

I suspect there are some games that would teach them some valuable skills (perseverance, patience, etc.). I'm thinking some sort of massively multiplayer game. They love games like Webkinz.

I'm looking for any sort of valid (peer-reviewed) research as to whether (and why and how) video games would be beneficial for kids.

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Related (but not duplicate). –  Beofett Apr 24 '12 at 17:07
    
@Clay: I posted a message on the chat, recommending a game. Did you see it? –  deworde Apr 26 '12 at 16:27
    
@deworde :ahhh.. found it. And, yes, a friend suggested MineCraft as well. Will look into it. (May daughter would prefer InteriorDecoratingCraft <g>) –  Clay Nichols Apr 27 '12 at 23:13
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Can be done: youtube.com/… –  deworde Apr 28 '12 at 11:59
    
We're currently evaluating our site, and this question is one we are seeking feedback on. Everyone, please visit this meta question and chime in with your thoughts and votes! –  Beofett Jun 8 '12 at 15:33
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The most important thing to remember is that games are often very social activities, especially at that age and at this time. Even single-player games are played "with" people, in the sense of discussing them, watching someone else play them, talking about them. With MMO's, this problem is doubled. One important thing about a lot of studies is that the boundaries for this have shifted, since the percentage of kids playing computer games has steadily risen over time.

This means that you need to apply the same cautions that you would with any social activity. Are they spending time with people you trust? Are they spending too much time on that activity to the exclusion of others?

At the same time, you need to consider the same factors for not allowing them to play. Does it mean they will be excluded from their social circle, because they won't have shared experiences?

As Beofett says, there are plenty of peer-reviewed studies, and a good sampling of the ones in favour of gaming can be found in Jane Mcgonigal's "Reality is Broken". I have to admit, I haven't gone so far as to check her sources, but it's a good primer on the positive aspects.

I answered a very similar question with this answer (Note: anecdotal rather than peer-reviewed)

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Disclaimer: I am not a parent, yet, and I am not a girl. On the outside at least.

They will play games. The next issue will be what the games are made of.

Prologue: I used to play Oregon Train in school. I learned to laugh at the misfortunes of others and having 100 boxes of ammo alone can get you across America. I did not bother to look up what dysentery means until college.

There are beautiful puzzle games like Eufloria and Echochrome which are visually stimulating and [probably] fun while being deep in the safe side for youth. The latter you would need to watch a demo to understand how thoughtful and potentially educational it can be. There are also some touch games like Crayon Physics which are even more interactive.

Why not more popular games like Angry Birds and such? Well I like to classify games based on different mindsets, player capture/retention schemes, time investment and reward levels. Based on my observations, there are much better selections out there.

Games like Angry Birds and super popular games become popular because of "overwhelming rewards" which are instant and audio-visually gratifying. Explosions and points are on a very superficial level. The mindset is simple and whatever physics present is overwhelmed by glitter.

This paradigm leads to what I can only describe as an addiction to a very basic stimulation. It is present in all genres of games so It may be hard to pinpoint what I am getting at.

The next level of game balances visuals with actual complexity- meaning less chance of trial and error reward freebies yet not as fast paced and stressful as hardcore puzzles.

The extreme end of this would be Tetris and Pac-Man which is "trouble-avoidance" rather than "reward accumulation" type.

The three games I recommend are of a walking pace, enough to pique interest and momentum though increasing complexity yet will not evolve into a "trouble avoidance" model or decline into a thoughtless plateau of "reward hoarding."

I will not suggest anything multiplayer over the internet for obvious reasons. Competition and cooperation are valuable to growing up, but in my opinion should not come from interacting with unknown parties over a medium you have effectively no control of.

There are youth oriented MMO "games" like Disney's Club Penguin which entails buying stuffed toys or tokens and other trinkets for virtual redemption. This strikes me as perversely over-consumerist and potentially hazardous to a child's self esteem. Any game based on real currency investment is asking for trouble. If you may think buying designer clothing for a 10-year-old may be over the top then you know ridiculous it is for a child to buy virtual status with (probably your) hard earned real money.

Imagine all the issues of lunch period social dynamics at school, except with amplified temerity in all parties granted by anonymity and physical disconnect. Would a parent really want this for their children's leisure time at home?

Choosing a game fit for your child is not an easy task unless you have experience with a wide gamut of games, and wide it is. From "free" games that are nothing less than exploitative (in the sense that it exploits the base urges of the mind, rather than challenge the mind) to blockbuster games down to classic puzzles, you have thousands of titles to choose from.

The most depressing thing I've learned so far is that games that fit this age group are mostly empty in substance, banking on popularity, naiveté and social media.

With regards to the investment, there will be different kinds ranging from freeform where the more they play the more rewards or complexity they gain. Fixed or semi-fixed timeframe games are ones that depend on real-life timescales and limitations. Many social media type games only allow a certain amount of investment per day or some other schema. Avoid these. In fact, gaming should be education(hopefully) during leisure time, not virtual feudalism during real-life time.

Irregardless of age, the issue of investment on low tier exploitative games often leak into the players social life, hijacking friends in order to grow the game's popularity. Viral marketing, very literally. No you will probably not let your children play Farmville on Facebook or its numerous clones but don't let it's popularity mask from you from the low-class system I described above that it thrives on. Much of today's iPad Top lists are filled with these schemes. The iPad is a wonderful tool for young generation of gaming but it will be even harder to find quality content on this platform. Ironically the three games I suggest above are found on Playstation Network and iOS and the such. This should show you that quality does exist, so learn to pick out the signal from the sea of noise.

I'm not telling you to make your daughters play Bridge, but if you want to be well informed then you will actually have to skip the "Top Grossing" lists and do your homework because video games are a serious business and may have lasting effects on your child's development because it definitely had on mine.

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Perhaps try an old CRT TV with Super Mario Bros. 3 for your child on a real NES. –  Kalamane May 18 '12 at 22:40
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Not really the peer reviewed study the author was looking for, but useful & interesting nonetheless. +1 –  Highly Irregular May 23 '12 at 9:44
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A recent study by a group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden claims that gamers not only learn to cooperate but also to understand complex contexts, understand how skills can be improved, and think through cause and effect relationships.

They focused on complex games with portrayals of violence and aggressive action where the participants have to fight with and against each other. 'The situations gamers encounter in these games call for sophisticated and well-coordinated collaboration. We analysed what characteristics and knowledge the gamers need to have in order to be successful,' says Jonas Ivarsson, Docent (Reader) at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning.

It turns out that a successful gamer is strategic and technically knowledgeable, and has good timing. Inconsiderate gamers, as well as those who act aggressively or emotionally, generally do not do well.

(This article summarizes some of the research, and contains the above quotes)

This article contains references to a number of other studies reputedly demonstrating benefits to gaming, but does not provide direct links to the research.

However, the caveat is that for every benefit research demonstrates for video games, there are just as many studies that show some negative impact of video games. My point in mentioning this is not to judge video games (I'm an avid gamer myself), but rather to point out that you should take any such research with a grain of salt, as the realities are much less black-and-white than the researchers on either side would have you believe.

Always use your judgement when considering allowing your children to play video games. Direct monitoring of your children's video game habits, and the impact it has on them, is more important than abstract benefits or detriments described by research papers.

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+1 to monitoring ALWAYS! –  morah hochman Apr 24 '12 at 18:16
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