I could harp on and on on how wrong they are and my own stance on gun control. Considering the context that this is being framed in, I’m instead going to focus on how games can be good for kids, and might be able to improve school performance and learning skills. Here are some ways, backed by researchers around the world, that games are good for kids AND their test scores!
Games can help you learn English, or other languages as a second language. A lot of popular games are mostly distributed in English. While the advent of Steam and other distribution platforms make localizing games much easier than before, plenty of gamers still play games in English. A problem a lot of EFL learners have is the lack of exposure to English. This 2008 study by several Taiwanese researchers shows that video games make for a great EFL tool as the hours of gameplay can translate to more exposure than a learner would have in their usual environment. This applies to online games too, as this Iranian study also shows.
It’s true that kids read a lot more these days, even though they don’t necessarily read books. However, reading is a core skill with adventure games such as the Telltale Walking Dead series or mystery games like Dangan Ronpa, where you need to understand the motivations of certain characters to make an informed decision.
Russians cursing in CS:GO aside, gamers are exposed to a ton of foreign languages, especially online. Here in Asia you can expect MMO chat to be a mixture of different languages from Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and more, that wouldn’t normally be encountered in the classroom.
A noteworthy example of this knowledge being put to good use is with localization company Sekai Project, who have translated popular Japanese games such as Neko Para and Clannad. The company started out translating niche Japanese games for western audiences.
While you’re learning English, games can help you expand your vocabulary in a fun way. Even if you already speak English, chances are you don’t encounter a lot of variety with the words you read and speak every day. This Lithuanian study surveyed gamers and it showed that English speakers were able to pick up new words from games. Casual games can expand your vocabulary as well, as this Brunei study shows that gamers learned new words while playing Minecraft and Candy Crush. An Indonesian study let a class of 8th graders play with an RPG (not the missile launcher!) and found that kids vastly preferred games as a learning tool, and that kids that played the RPG showed a significant improvement in their English vocabulary skills.
Again, this isn’t a surprise! On top of being more exposed to English, a lot of mechanics and elements in games aren’t typically encountered in daily life or in regular conversational English. Zombies, dragons, minecarts, explosions and exotic gems are among the terms that you can learn and familiarize yourself with in Minecraft. Sci-fi and steampunk games expose you to terms more associated with engineering and tech, like valves, gauges, vents, terminals and consoles. While fantasy games can incorporate historical, medical and cultural terms like elixirs, antidotes, the aristocracy, patrons and temples. Play any Pokemon game and you’ll learn a lot of terms associated with animals, nature and the elements, just by raising your Pokemon and teaching it moves.
While not necessarily related to the content of said games, playing video games for long enough can increase your technical vocabulary as well. You’ll learn about such exotic things such as servers, networks, bandwidth, security and verification.
Games can help you learn better and faster. A study by the University of Toronto discovered that gamers who play action games are better at learning tasks involving motor skill when compared to nongamers. This isn’t a surprise considering that a lot of games do involve picking up complex controls on the fly, and that these controls can change between games, so gamers eventually get used to learning different control schemes. Even in the same game, players might have to get used to different characters or weapons that all behave differently. Monster Hunter is a great example of this, with some weapons in the same class behaving differently depending on input.
Games can improve your reaction time too! A study by the University of Leicester had subjects perform tasks that measured reaction times, and subjects that were assigned to play video games performed better after they were tested again afterwards. A study by the University of Rochester on the other hand reveals that this is specific to action games, as they split subjects into groups to play Call of Duty and The Sims respectively and found that the COD players benefited from the game, while the Sims players didn’t.
Games can improve your communication skills. A study from the University of Glasgow pit subjects into teams, and had them play multiplayer collaborative games like Minecraft, Portal 2 and Gone Home. They found out that after playing these games, the teams were able to work with each other better on tasks. It’s surprising that this concept hasn’t been noticed by many companies that espouse leadership seminars and team building exercises – why not just have your staff all play Minecraft?
Consider that between different video games, gamers can learn a lot of skills that have to do with communicating in a group and organizing activities. Co-op games like the recently released A Way Out and Kirby Star Allies require a measure of communication and teamwork to succeed at. While these two are relatively merciful in that you can screw up without encountering major setbacks, the stakes can get higher depending on the game – the entire eSports community revolves around high stakes team-co-op games like League of Legends, CS:GO and Overwatch.
Raids are a great example if we’re talking about corporate levels of managing teams, with Warcraft and Pokemon GO raids requiring people to organize in groups at specific times, commonly with specific loadouts and team compositions. Battles on a larger scale require even more logistical skill, with EVE Online being a particularly egregious example when taking into account that espionage and backstabbing are part of the culture there.
So there you go! Next time someone tells you that games are bad for you, just remember that there’s no better way to get good than by having fun doing it!