Gaming, the ongoing debate: good or evil?

As with many life issues, gaming doesn’t seem to be helpfully black and white. Decisions are much easier to make when everything is clear cut, however, that’s just not the case in real life parenting. I hope that you can tolerate a wade through some grey instead! Some helpful information, a little cautionary message and a bit of reassurance thrown into the melting pot will give you more confidence as you seek to make an educated decision on video games.

Gaming as a topic gives rise to strong opinions for parents, can even be quite polarising at a social event, splitting a group into two teams of – for’ gaming and – against’. If our child is keen on gaming, we can have a lot of questions and concerns. But we can find out a lot about gaming online. For example, if our child is playing dota 2 eSports we may want to look it up to read up about it – many of these games are safe, but some parents don’t feel comfortable with the storylines and the nature of them, and that is fine too! Part of the problem for us as caregivers is that in general many of us are not super technologically savvy, so when our children want to download a game similar to Brawl Stars (Tl charger brawl stars if your French) we aren’t sure what the game will offer our children. We struggle to really understand: A) what the huge appeal of gaming is for our kids, and B) what, if any, are the merits here? Because, let’s face it, we are keenly aware of the pitfalls. Visions of our son/daughter 15 years into the future, whiling away hour upon hour, sitting hunched over in a darkened room wearing a hoody, clutching a gaming console in one hand and a Red Bull in the other, chip packets strewn over the floor” our minds could lead us to a sad place. May I respectfully suggest that you give up on asking question A, because whether we understand the – why’ or not, there is huge appeal for kids to game ” so let’s move on and focus on the merits (or not) of this pastime.

The research

For starters, let’s look at the research. Already there are studies out there which will reassure us and those that won’t. Video gaming gives rise to opportunistic companies wanting to cater to consumer demands and make huge profits, so some research attempts to convince parents that not only are video games not bad, but they can in fact increase our child’s cognitive abilities. There are some truly monster claims circulating out there about particular games improving memory, focus, assisting reading for children with dyslexia, and even helping to limit trauma. These types of claims can be made with sometimes only a small group involved in said studies, conducted with specific games, whilst looking for particular connections and outcomes. This means that they can be agenda laden. However, this is rather unfair to solely aim towards children, as adults still like to game just as much as kids, only the games might be a little different. For example, adults would be able to click here and start playing casino games that could cause them to win or lose money, no matter the age we all like the engage in some form of entertainment at times.

We tend to want to neatly label how video games might help us, for example, increasing fine motor skills. There just isn’t enough evidence to do this at present, and there are so many anomalies and complexities that any big claim is likely to be an overstatement. We need to be aware that the -brain game market’ is a very appealing one to parents and caregivers, and we can’t afford to be fooled.

What the research does suggest is the effects of playing the games tend to be task-specific therefore quite isolated, meaning they warrant only as much time as a well-balanced life affords. If certain games do enhance memory, that’s fantastic – but just as we wouldn’t allow our child to play? Go Fish’ for 8 hours a day, gaming needs the same rationale.

The bulk of scientific study so far has been done with adults, looking for improvements in cognitive skills for use with those experiencing Alzheimers or dementia, as an example. Being so age specific should not allow parents enough security to base a decision upon. Also, the studies have tended to use non-action puzzle games, for instance, Tetris, as opposed to action ones (eg. Ratchet and Clank, Call of Duty) which means more research needs to be done across a broader range to gain an accurate picture of what the real effects on the brain might be.


It has been suggested that there is an emotional component to gaming, giving people a way to escape from their real-life problems and providing a safe outlet for anger and aggression, which typically are not very acceptable socially. Children do need to develop ways to vent their feelings in a healthy way, taking the form of talking to others about it, engaging in physical activity etc. Maybe gaming could be considered as one (but not the only) option available to them? An article in the -New Scientist’ indicated that people with potential addiction to gaming may be struggling in some area of their life, and that gaming might therefore be a displacement activity for people in an unhappy situation, rather than an addiction’. Symptoms of addiction were seen to reduce once that specific area of a person’s life improved. And as an interesting side note, this same study claims that gaming addiction is not a real condition. The jury is definitely not out on this, so please don’t sit back and relax! This is especially the case with mobile gaming and, in particular, mobile gambling. There is no denying that mobile gambling is growing and for many it is just a fun past-time, but it is the belief of many that it can become an addiction if the user isn’t careful. The other point involving the emotional element with gaming is it can give a powerful feel-good hit; perhaps the level of excitement that supporting an underdog sports team might generate, but this will never manage to deliver as consistently and satisfactorily as a video game can’.

Building knowledge

Civilisation’ is an example of a game which gives the player opportunity to build an empire for themselves, whilst learning about ancient cultures and civilizations along the way. There are many other video games out there which increase knowledge as well as drawing on other brain functions. However, it’s probably fair to say that the majority of concerns parents have are in regard to the action variety of games, as opposed to the non-action.

One of the fallouts of living in a sanitised, safety conscious, risk-adverse world, is that there can be something missing for kids who have a sense of adventure. The rise in popularity of the action game Fortnite is testament to this. Fortnite is a ‘Battle Royale’ game; the player is one person against the world, playing online with 100 others who are confined to a map, and has been likened to The Hunger Games in intensity. What child seeking a little excitement is not going to be interested in that?

In the vast world of video gaming, it seems that there is popular, and then there is worthwhile. Is the controversy in your household arising out of the nature of game(s) you deem educational and advantageous as opposed to your child’s definition, which means more to do with popularity and fun factor? Can you meet in the middle?

Here are a few suggestions to help you consider this conundrum!

1. A good rule of thumb is to always proceed with caution, or certainly common sense. This means that regardless of what your child tells you about a game, make sure you check it out yourself. Read the information on it and see if you know anyone who already has it, you might like to ask them to give you a look.

2. Whatever game(s) they do play, long or even unlimited periods on any technology is not ideal. This might require you to encourage them by getting up and out with them at times, rather than expecting them to motivate themselves.

3. If you think about it objectively, any activity needs monitoring to a point, so don’t expect gaming to be an exception. Definitely have limits, but come up with the rules and allow for negotiation (meaning you let your child state their case and be prepared to compromise occasionally), time for review (eg. a year older therefore hour an hour extra per day) and flexibility (for instance, weekends when a friend is around they can game an extra hour). And yes, it is a challenge especially when you are tired and you don’t have the energy for negotiation. However this is something that transfers into many other areas of life, and if you become proficient at negotiating with your child, it will be a great life skill for them to see modelled.

4. If you treat gaming as a privilege that is allowed once homework and chores are done, this gives you leverage. However, make sure you throw in the fact that other things are a privilege too, for instance, watching tv, going on facebook, going to a friend’s place for a sleepover, so they don’t get the feeling that you are focussing too intensely on their gaming.

5. Try to acknowledge what is positive about the game they are playing and take an interest in it, ask a few questions about how it is played, what your child enjoys most about it, how they achieve different levels etc. If your child thinks you are just dead against them gaming, it could become a full-on battle.

6. If your child is constantly asking for more time gaming and is never satisfied, then maybe it’s time to have a break and sit down and chat. Explain to them that you want them to experience all aspects of life, and gaming is only one part.

7. Have a few options to choose from, a mixture of action and non-action games if you are able, to provide a variety of enriching experiences for your children.

8. Encourage your child to have their own adventures, depending on their interest levels and abilities. Could you register them for an outdoor camp or activity, or how about as a family you get out there and explore together?

Which games are popular in NZ right now:

On the ‘Synoply’ website, each week the Top 10 Most Popular Video Games for New Zealand are published. They are based on the sales figures of each game on a weekly basis. The following are the top 5 for the week ended 6th May, 2018: (keep in mind that these are based on sales, therefore they don’t include free games such as Fortnite)

God of War 2018

Far Cry 5

The Evil Within 2

Fallout 4

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Extra information:

When should you be concerned about your child’s gaming?

Fortnite? what’s all the fuss about? Get your questions about this very popular game answered” is it really free and what are the catches?

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