Are video games ever good for kids?

Someone sent me this question: Are video games ever good for kids?

I guess it came at a good time, because I actually enjoyed writing my answer:
Are video games ever good for kids? Of course they are. They can be good for adults, and even seniors, too.

Can they be bad? Of course they can. It depends on the games and on the people who are playing them.

Actually, the same can be said for any kind of game. Can chess be bad? It can be, if it becomes an obsession, if the chess players pursue chess to the exclusion of everything else social, physical, and intellectual.

In fact, the category "video games" is itself misleading. The term comes from the arcade game era, and was used primarily to describe games like Pong and Breakout and PacMan. And these games suffered from the same misconception that led to us asking the very same question - are they good for kids.

Currently, kids have access to a very wide variety of things you might call video games, and other games that involve computers that you wouldn't think to call video games, but, in fact, have the same characteristics. Texting, for example, via cell phone, chatting and IMing via computer. Not games, actually, but highly interactive platforms for largely intellectual engagement. And then there are mass multiplayer online environments, like Second Life, which no one thinks of as video games, and yet have many of the same attributes.

I myself have designed games of almost every ilk, including computer games. Some were intellectual exercises, some social. Some were for the Children's Television Workshop, others for dedicated videogame companies, others for board and card game publishers. They all have succeeded in engaging children, in challenging them to solve and master some intellectual or social problem. And, as such, have all proven good for them - except for the few kids who took the games too seriously.

Which brings to mind all those concerns about violence in children's games. I personally don't like games that involve people blowing each other up. But I can't tell you that they're bad for kids, because I think most kids are not fooled by the imagery, and focus rather on mastering the intellectual, visual, and physical challenges these games pose. Take, for example, chess. Isn't it all about killing? Killing military figures and religious figures and government figures and destroying their homes?

On the other hand, violent imagery isn't necessary for a good game or a good video game. Take, for example, the many variations of the Sims, or my current conceptual passion - the beautifully cooperative game of Chilone.

But, I can't say violent games are really bad for kids, either. If kids are seeing violence, in their neighborhoods or on TV or in the movies, then it's part of their lives, and it's something they need to play with, to integrate into their world view.

There's a great story from Sara Similansky about pre-school kids who were playing outside, in the school playground, when a car hit a pedestrian. Soon an ambulance came and took the pedestrian to the hospital. It was a potentially traumatic experience for the kids. The next day, they started playing Accident and Ambulence. They continued playing for several days. And then went on to something else.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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