of kids and video games

One of my favorite psychologists, Peter Gray, (Defender of the Playful) recently posted an article called “The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games,” in which he writes:

Why do we worry about a kid’s spending maybe 4 or 5 hours a day at a computer screen, doing what he wants to do, but don’t worry about the same kid sitting at school for 6 hours a day and then doing homework for another couple of hours–doing what others are forcing him to do? I ask you to consider the possibility that the kid is learning more valuable lessons at the computer than at school, in part because the computer activity is self-chosen and the school activity is not.


When kids are asked, in focus groups and surveys, what they like about video games, they generally talk about freedom, self-direction, and competence. In the game, they make their own decisions and strive to meet challenges that they themselves have chosen. At school and in other adult-dominated contexts they may be treated as idiots who need constant direction, but in the game they are in charge and can solve difficult problems and exhibit extraordinary skills. In the game, age does not matter, but skill does. In these ways, video games are like all other forms of true play.

Powerful arguments, these. Powerful questions. Powerfully wonderful to find them being asked, and answered.


  1. natalie on June 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    I love the willingness to really sit with the idea that kids playing video games might not be them wasting their lives. My friend, Kristin Harling, who started the Katuah Sudbury School, a wild free school in Asheville, NC, really held my hand as I learned to explore my own rigid preconceptions about my children’s choices for fun time, and learned to explore my own. Now, we often snuggle up and play Wii together, having incredibly high energy, joyous connected time together. I also find that playing Mario alone calms me down, helps me focus, and, yes, when I get to the Princess, I get to feel like the total badass that I really am. I find them to be a nice complimentary game to all the other delicious ones we play every day.

    • Bernie DeKoven on June 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      Great hearing from you, as ever and always, Natalie. And from Kristin. What a gift you both are!

      Ah, the whee of wii. What a wonderful sharing it can be.

      Here’s an article I wrote a while ago – http://www.deepfun.com/fun/1995/01/learning-by-dying/ – maybe it will help Mario lead you to your even badderass self.

  2. Kristin Harling on June 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Yes, Bernie! YES YES YES!

    What could be more important than knowing how to direct your own game!

    Love, love Peter Gray. Longtime Sudbury supporter. His son, Scott, is a graduate and staff at SVS. Delightful, big hearted, freedom-loving people.

  3. Ann Duncan on June 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Right on! Great post!

    I was initially against the inordinate amount of time my then 11 yr old was on virtual pet site games. I felt such games a big waste of time, at best. But we were unschooling and that was what she chose and so I (unenthusiastically) supported that choice. Lots of days of little else but those online games, for a couple of years.

    One day she walked in and announced that, tho she really found the games gratifying, she wanted to invest her time in something more substantial. Yes, she used that sort of vocabulary. She moved on to more time reading and writing and entrepreneurial pursuits that could support her new ‘habit’ – fencing. As in sword fighting.

    What still has me scratching my head was how well that gaming time served her. She actually learned a great many things along her gaming path and I see her apply them to Real Life again and again. She thanks me, repeatedly, for not ever making her go to school (nor ever bringing school to the home). Says she wouldn’t have had time to live her life and to learn and to think and to be.

    (Just so you know, tho I never required scholastic activities, I did require that she pull her share of household chores and my husband required her to help at times with the family business and she’s learned to value hard work.)

    To put it mildly, I’m a huge fan of hers, and of how’s she’s educating herself, so far. In spite of all those computer game hours! I invite you to take a peek at her blog and see what I mean. Fun pics, etc. http://www.TirzahDuncan.com


    • Bernie DeKoven on June 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      Maybe not “in spite of”, eh? Maybe because of all those gaming hours.

  4. Lily on June 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I honestly wouldn’t have thought it myself, so I’m glad you brought it up. Yet another thinking post I guess. 😉

    Anyway, we often think of schools as preparing our kids for the “real world”, but one of the most important things we, as adults, need to do in the real world is make choices. Video games give kids (and adults) a lot of practice at making choices and seeing how those choices “play out” (pun intended).

    Love and laughter,

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