Of all the means of entertainment humans have mustered up in the last century, none has had a more profound effect, nor has been the spark of such controversy, as the video game. Conceived in 1958, the very first video game prompted a surge of virtual curiosity, paving the way for various electronic competitions to surface for the public. Since then, the video game has evolved from mere two-dimensional simplistic sporting contests, to unbelievably vivid and intricate alternate realities. Such a transformation has not been without scrutiny. Over the years, video games have grown increasingly realistic; and heightened realism makes for more intensified imagery. This realistic imagery became heavily monitored and abhorred as violence became a more prevalent facet of gaming victory, allowing for more children to be exposed to this somewhat lifelike gore. Amidst the turmoil, speculation arose that children are negatively affected by these violent games, and that these games caused children to act out their aggression in real life. Although it is a rational concern, countless studies have debunked the theory. Not only do video games have no negative effects on a person’s aggressive tendencies, but they have been proven to encourage the opposite, even benefitting children in several aspects of their adolescent development. Many games are advertised simply as a means of entertainment; however, they can yield positive effects on a person’s developmental process, especially children. Video games are beneficial to the maturation of a child’s cognitive processing, they are constructive regarding a child’s self esteem and encourage a favorable self-image, and lastly they provide unparalleled inclusive opportunities for children to thrive socially. With education playing such a pivotal role in an adolescent’s upbringing, video games bring forth a unique, productive, and wholly efficient template for learning.
At a young age, children are not expected to actively solve problems using their intellect. Mainly due to the fact they are unable to; they have yet to be tested or pushed mentally. It is one thing to want a child to put their mind to the test, another thing to get that child to oblige. To children, at least at that age, exerting themselves through tests and problems yields no worthwhile result. Amy Paturel of Neurology Now clearly asserts that, “the human brain is wired to crave instant gratification, fast pace, and unpredictability. All three are satisfied in video games” (Paturel 32). Video games provide a rewarding outlet. For solving a problem, or deciphering a puzzle, players are awarded. Whether it is with experience points, a useful item, or a new path opening up, the player receives immediate compensation for the task. Reward based learning helps children retain information they’ve processed, especially within a game as it indicates that puzzle might come around again. This is where cognitive processing is improved in adolescents. Puzzles in a video game are different from puzzles in a book or on a paper. In a game, the player is put through real-time tests that usually have various implied consequences, such as an enemy prevailing. People learn and retain information more successfully if there is added pressure. A child will be more inclined to solve a puzzle if they are being chased by trolls, just as a student will be more inclined to study if they have a test the next day. The uniqueness of virtual learning is something children will benefit from, since, “in these games, the same technologies that place a premium on innovative practices make those practices accessible to young people as never before” (Shaffer 188). However, video games not only differ from reality by the situations they are able to put kids in, but by the amount of chances and retries granted to the child. In life, if you score poorly on a test, that grade is reflected on your record. In a video game, if a player fails a mission or puzzle they are given the opportunity to retry any amount of times, with the prior knowledge gained from the last attempt. There are no real consequences in a game, which invalidates any real pressure and allows players to have multiple chances to apply their knowledge. Video games fully utilize the mantra, ‘learn from your mistakes’, since players are actually able to make mistakes without any repercussions, a privilege that is not practiced in many aspects of the world. Children benefit the most from this since the most efficient way to learn is to make mistakes and apply newly acquired knowledge on the next attempt. In this regard, video games offer a method of teaching that no other medium can come close to.
It remains true, however, that no matter how much potential a method of teaching possesses, if there is no willingness to learn it will be for naught. Sentiment to learn is a difficult feeling to understand for children. For that reason, teaching and learning need to be enjoyable and offer more than just information. Video games intrinsically remedy this dilemma by developing a sense of attachment between the player and the playable character. Children are presented with a hero of some sort, somewhat of a background context, and an objective, compelling them to get involved in the story. Once embedded in the plot, players grow increasingly connected with the character, eventually adopting the mindset that they themselves are the real heroes. Children especially benefit from this as their lucid imagination allows them to completely embody the notion of heroism; so much so, that as they level up their character, they too level up, so to speak. When children vicariously live through their character in a game, it helps them to further comprehend information, dilemmas, relationships, etc. According to a study done by Albert Bandura pertaining to social-cognitive theory and vicarious learning, “the two components of vicarious reinforcement are: the behavior of a model produces reinforcement for a particular behavior, and positive emotion reactions are aroused…”
(1). Video games excel in both categories, as the behavior of a character is reinforced in order to complete a task, and, needless to say, positive emotions come easily are easily drawn out from the instant gratification present in video games. With regards to vicarious learning, as a character solves a puzzle or figures out what to do next, a child will simultaneously receive this information and remember it for its contextual value, enabling that information to be recalled at any given time. Video games provide and nurture a deep connection between player and character. Considering children learn more fluently if they are deriving enjoyment out of it, this could be a pivotal key in the future of adolescent education.
If playing a game as a fictional character traveling through a world of endless imagination doesn’t entice kids to pick up a controller, the multiplayer option will. Video games possess another distinct advantage over fundamental learning, and that is the ability to pit friends against or with each other via multiplayer games. When video games were first conceived, this was the driving force behind the ideology. Friends could gather to collectively compete through a virtual console that allowed two people to assume a role on two different teams. When ‘Pong’, a simple 2D and two-player table tennis game, was released, it became the hottest form of recreation throughout the country. People were now savvy to the notion that electronics were becoming usable as a means of entertainment. Which, needless to say, changed the course of electronics from the get go. Once consoles and multiplayer games started being released, video game popularity soared. As Riad Chikhani elucidates in his article, “[when] home and arcade gaming boomed, so too did the development of the gaming community” (Chikhani 1). Instead of having to run out to the arcade, one could now enjoy the virtual experience from the comfort of their living room, and even invite their friends to join. Kids and adults alike all over the country were coming together to experience competition through a new medium: virtual reality. Since then, video games have capitalized on multiplayer popularity, developing new ways to compete and to work together. Games can now include up to four players playing simultaneously. Whether they’re all competing against each other, on two separate teams, or all working together doesn’t matter. The fact is, video games provide a safe, healthy environment for friends to bond.
Having an outlet to compete and play with friends isn’t without educational value. There are many lessons a child can learn through playing video games with friends. For starters, video games are the only form of virtual entertainment that is interactive, allowing for kids to be put into scenarios they would never be exposed to otherwise. With regards to multiplayer, if two kids are attempting a cooperative game, they will be put into situations where neither can advance unless teamwork is involved. Teamwork is an important life lesson that can be taught without the use of video games, however, video games are unique and force children to consider avenues they would not normally have to choose. It is already apparent that being encouraged to broaden imagination and thought processes in a stress free video game promotes critical thinking growth; but being put in these situations with a friend nurtures connection and respect, something children should learn at an early age to help their social skills develop. Children tend to learn faster when they are in a group as well. With regards to asking questions in groups, “when children ask questions they are frequently intent on seeking information from their conversation partner—rather than practical help or attention” (Paul Harris 23). If a child is struggling with a solution, they are more likely to willingly adopt a peer’s method of learning than an adult’s, parent or teacher. Judith Harris, an American psychologist, concluded in a study of peer learning that, “outside influences such as pop culture, [and] friends… have a much greater influence on children than family life,” (Paton 1). Children can easily and subconsciously relate to other children, something they cannot do with adults. At a certain age, we learn more from our peers than we do from any parents or teachers. Cooperative gaming manifests a healthy learning environment for kids to learn from each other and to help each other overcome obstacles, all while having fun in a stress-free atmosphere, with no consequences for mistakes. Multiplayer mode creates bonds between people, making it easier to connect and learn from each other, especially for children. There are many life lessons children can learn and benefit from learning at a young age, but there are some that cannot be taught, only learned. A person’s self- confidence and self-image is a very important facet of life. It is something that is acquired through experiences and observation, and cannot be told or lectured to someone. Children must discover themselves, and their opinion of themselves, by themselves. Unfortunately, “the ways that school instruction is organized reflect particular societal pressures,” (Rogoff, Turkanis, & Bartlett 4), something that video games do not reflect.