Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Kids these days… all the time they spend plugged in to all those video games. Isn’t it terrible?

Or is it?


I am one of those parents that doesn’t limit my children’s time with the ipad, Wii or Xbox.  Yes, we have all three.

I know, I know, I can already hear the gasps and tsk-tsk-tsks from 99% of the audience.

And, no they have no desire what so ever to sit in front of a screen all day.  Interestingly enough, they would much rather play outside with their friends.

Why this philosophy, you ask?

Well, I questioned a long time ago if they were reading books for 10 hours a day, would I try to limit their book-reading time? If the piano in the living room suddenly caught their attention and they decided to spend all day learning to play it, would I stop them after a couple hours?

So, then what is so wrong with an activity that improves their problem-solving skills, rewards them with positive reinforcement, builds on their strengths and works on their weaknesses, teaches them to work as a team with other players, and challenges and improves their balance and hand-eye coordination?

Shouldn’t I be encouraging an activity that instills a sense of pride in their accomplishments?


Conventional wisdom suggests that time spent playing video games is time wasted. The common perception is that few video games exercise the brain and, if there is any physical activity involved, it’s usually the occasional wave of a controller rather than anything that will work up a sweat. And shouldn’t kids be outside playing, rather than sitting in front of yet another screen?

Video games, we have been led to believe, are about wasting time. It is a misunderstanding that players and game makers have railed against for 40 years. While movies and television are endlessly analyzed and debated in the mainstream media, games are characterized as troubling, irresponsible or banal, the fatuous byproducts of the digital revolution.

But I along with a growing number of theorists and designers disagree. This is, after all, an entertainment medium that worldwide makes $50bn a year!

“Videogames change your brain,” said University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green, who studies how electronic games affect abilities. So does learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating the streets of London, which have all been shown to change the brain’s physical structure. The powerful combination of concentration and rewarding surges of neurotransmitters like dopamine strengthen neural circuits in much the same the way that exercise builds muscles. But “games definitely hit the reward system in a way that not all activities do,” he said.

“There has been a lot of attention wasted in figuring out whether these things turn us into killing machines,” said computational analyst Joshua Lewis at the University of California in San Diego, who studied 2,000 computer game players. “Not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that videogames have outside of the violence.”

Video gaming causes increases in the brain regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning as well as fine motor skills. This has been shown in a new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus

Videogames can change a person’s brain and, as researchers are finding, often that change is for the better. So parents maybe it’s time we change our game?

Curiosity is the act of wanting a thing without knowing what it is. There’s a lot of that in video games.

Central to it all is a simple theory – that games are fun because they teach us interesting things and they do it in a way that our brains prefer – through systems and puzzles.

Some people think of play as the opposite of work. They think of it with goofing off, being lazy, lack of achievement, or, at best, recreation. “Stop playing and get to work!” Yet, as many of you probably know, it is through play that we do much of our learning. We learn best when we are having fun. Play, more than any other activity, fuels healthy development of children — and the continued healthy development of adults.

Play takes many forms, but the heart of all play is pleasure. If it isn’t fun, it isn’t play. We play from birth on — we play using our bodies (building with blocks) and our minds (fantasy play). We use words to play (jokes, wit, humor) and we use props (blocks, toys, games). While the exact nature of play evolves, becoming more complex as we grow, play at all ages brings pleasure.

While many parents and teachers lament over what a waste of time video games are, they are walking past a historic opportunity. The only thing being wasted here is the true value and potential of these technological marvels.

Instead of decrying them, we could be using these high-tech “toys” to create a revolution in education and training.

These games take our kids into a highly immersive, interspatial, 3D world where they learn how to operate a breathtaking range of tools, including futuristic vehicles, complex weapons, and other machines.

Take a few minutes to really watch them in one of these games.

As I confronted the game, I was amazed. It was hard, long, and complex. I failed many times and had to engage in a virtual research project via the Internet to learn some of the things that I needed to know. All of my Generation X ways of learning and thinking did not work, and I felt myself using learning muscles that had not had this much of a workout since my graduate school days.

Before I talk about learning in games, I must deal with the “content” question. People are prone to say, in a dismissive way, “What you learn when you learn to play a video game is just how to play the game.”

Ironically, we actually find here our first good learning principle. Some people think of learning in school — for example, learning biology — as all about learning “facts” that can be repeated on a written test. Decades of research, however, have shown that students taught under such a regime, though they may be able to pass tests, cannot actually apply their knowledge to solve problems or understand the conceptual lay of the land in the area that they are learning.

A science such as biology is not a set of facts. In reality, it is a “game” that certain types of people “play.” These people engage in characteristic sorts of activities, use characteristic tools and language, and hold certain values; that is, they play by a certain set of “rules.” They do biology. Of course, they learn, use, and retain lots and lots of facts — even produce them — but the facts come from and with the doing.

My schooling taught me, as it did many other Gen Xers, that being smart is moving as fast and efficiently to your goal as possible. Games encourage a different attitude. They encourage players to explore thoroughly before moving on; to think laterally, not just linearly; and to use such exploration and lateral thinking to reconceive one’s goals from time to time. This process sounds just like what the modern high-tech, global workplace wants.

Anyone who has ever tried to teach a kid how to multiply knows how hard that job is. (Try teaching a child what an adverb is long enough and you’ll develop a facial tic.) But set the student up with an interactive, electronic game that is fun, competitive, and self-diagnostic, and suddenly teaching these basic subjects becomes both efficient and effective.

Young learners love to play, and they participate in a game with more enthusiasm and willingness than in any other classroom task.  Thus, when learning is channeled into an enjoyable game, they are very often willing to invest considerable time and effort in playing it.

They pour hours into memorizing elaborate scenarios and developing the most sophisticated strategies and tactics to accomplish goals and win the game.

And they don’t do all this alone. Often you’ll find them wearing a headset, collaborating with teammates from all over the world, sometimes even using cordoned off sections of the screen to videoconference so they can collaborate face-to-face in complex real-time solutions.

An effective learning environment, and for that matter an effective creative environment, is one in which failure is OK – it’s even welcomed.  In game theory, this is often spoken of as the ‘magic circle’: you enter into a realm where the rules of the real world don’t apply – and typically being judged on success and failure is part of the real world. People need to feel free to try things and to learn without being judged or penalized.

The “acquire, test, master” model is still intrinsic to game design. There is constant progress and a continually evolving challenge, but there is always room to experiment and to figure things out through intuition.

“Games allow us to create these little systems where learning is controlled and taken advantage of really brilliantly,” says Margaret Robertson, development director at innovative London-based games studio Hide&Seek. “We do love learning and we’re good at it, but it is often frustrating in the real world because you don’t always get to go at the pace you want to go and often don’t immediately see the application of what you’re doing.”

So here’s 7 reasons why I don’t limit screen time:

1. Video games teach problem solving. Video games get kids to think. There are dozens of video games that are specifically geared towards learning, but even the most basic shooter game teaches kids to think logically and quickly process large amounts of data. Rather than passively absorbing content from, say, a TV show, a video game requires the player’s constant input to tell the story.

2. Video games are social. The stereotype of the pasty-faced adolescent sitting in his mom’s basement playing video games on his own is as outdated as Space Invaders. Many games have thriving online and offline fan-bases, and a community component that strongly encourages social interaction.

3. Video games provide positive reinforcement. Most video games are designed to allow players to succeed and be rewarded for that success. Different skill levels and a risk-and-reward gaming culture mean that kids are not afraid to fail and will take a few chances in order to achieve their ultimate goal.

4. Video games teach strategic thinking. Video games teach kids to think objectively about both the games themselves and their own performance. While there are many games that place a premium on strategy, most set an overall goal and give the gamer numerous ways in which he or she can achieve that goal. Players also get instant feedback on their decisions and quickly learn their own strengths and weaknesses.

5. Video games build teamwork. The vast majority of video games are now designed with cooperative play options. Whether it’s fighting off alien invaders, solving puzzles, or being on the same bobsleigh team, video games offer kids a wealth of opportunities to constructively work together.

6. Video games improve hand-eye coordination. Video games have been found to improve the balance and coordination of numerous patients from stroke victims to those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. There have even been studies that suggest that surgeons who regularly play video games make less mistakes in the operating theater than non-gamers. Even if your child is super-healthy and has no desire to be a surgeon or watch-maker, good hand-eye coordination is an invaluable skill to have.

7. Video games bring families together. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Video games aren’t just for kids anymore. Ask your kids to teach you a few moves and you might find that Family Fun Night is every bit as enjoyable as those games of Clue and Monopoly used to be when you were a kid!

Live and Learn. We All Do.

Thanks for reading. Please share 🙂

Please don’t forget to leave a comment.

About julia29

Hi. My name is Julia El-Haj. I am a Hall of Fame Athlete, an MBA, Professional Certified Marketer, Certified Youth Fitness Trainer, a Specialist in Sports Nutrition and a licensed Real Estate agent. I gave up my "seat at the table" to be home with my 3 children because that's where I was needed most. I blog about everything with Wellness in mind.
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