Let Your Kids Play Video Games. Here’s Why.

When my niece was about 18 months old, she started showing an interest in my Nintendo Switch. She’d hear all the music and prattles from my neighbors in Animal Crossing, or the curious chirps of my Pokémon in Pokémon: Arceus, or the galloping of trusty Epona in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. One day, while playing Arceus, she climbed up onto the couch and started to watch the screen. I leaned in so she could see, and started to describe what I was doing in the game. Even though I knew she didn’t understand, I wanted her to begin to correlate video games with something comforting and familiar, like my voice speaking to her. She was bright eyed and curious. At one point she took the Switch from me and began to push the buttons, jiggle the joysticks, and touch the screen all over. She was hooked. And ever since, every time I pop over for a visit, we always steal away for 30 or so minutes and play on my Switch, giggle, and talk. It’s exactly what she needs, and it will only make her brighter and more curious.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of entertainment and education, video games have emerged as a powerful medium with the potential to shape the cognitive and emotional development of children. Contrary to our parents’ beliefs that games rot the brain and only lead to laziness, there is a growing body of research suggesting that early exposure to video games can be beneficial for young minds. Instead of adhering to archaic and outdated worldviews, we should acknowledge and lean into reality: that is, the importance of introducing children to video games at an early age, and emphasizing the role they play in providing interactive storytelling experiences and fostering a broader worldview.

One of the key reasons why exposing children to video games early is essential lies in the unique and immersive storytelling experiences they offer. Unlike passive forms of entertainment like television or movies, video games allow players to actively engage with the narrative, making decisions that impact the storyline. This interactivity not only enhances a child’s cognitive abilities but also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Parents seem to have no problem letting their kids sit in front of a TV for hours on end to keep them distracted or entertained. Allowing them to play games forces them out of a passive state and demands interaction, leading to a richer experience and development.

Kids Video Games2
Games can provide a unique avenue for interactive learning, when presented thoughtfully and in moderation.

Video games often feature complex narratives that require players to navigate through challenging scenarios, make strategic decisions, and adapt to dynamic environments. This active participation in storytelling not only captures a child’s attention but also instills a sense of agency and empowerment. Through video games, children learn that their choices matter, fostering a deeper connection to the narrative and encouraging them to think critically about the consequences of their actions. Many developers are even designing games now exclusively for young children, such as with Artax Games’ upcoming title Bluey: The Video Game. Providing children with meaningful interactions with their favorite characters is just one way to create incentive to participate in a game, and being able to assist them in solving problems gives them a sense of purpose and accomplishment early on. 

Now to be fair, the concept of video games aimed at children isn’t new. Most of you reading this probably remember a time that you were playing The Oregon Trail in computer class, or maybe even Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? While these games certainly have their own merit and set a foundation for interactive learning in the late 80s and early 90s, the concept of the educational video game was of one mind; educate. Immersion, narrative, every factor that is aimed at making a game “entertaining” took a backseat in the name of “educating,” and much is lost as a result. As important as learning is, learning is not solely relegated to traditional academic subjects. I’d dare to venture that you stand to learn more from playing a game like Outer Wilds than you would playing The Oregon Trail. 

Storytelling in video games often transcends traditional boundaries, encompassing a wide range of genres and themes. From fantasy realms to historical settings, video games expose children to diverse cultures, perspectives, and ideas. This diversity in storytelling helps broaden a child’s understanding of the world, fostering empathy and cultural awareness. Early exposure to these varied narratives can lay the foundation for an open-minded and inclusive worldview. To be sure, there’s plenty of varied TV shows and movies readily accessible these days, and this is not to say they aren’t valuable or important. But games provide an additional avenue of exposure, with the added bonus of providing interaction and stakes in the given world. 

Video games, when chosen thoughtfully, offer a rich environment for the development of cognitive skills in children. Many games require players to solve puzzles, strategize, and make quick decisions, contributing to the enhancement of problem-solving abilities and spatial reasoning. Additionally, the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills required to manipulate controllers or keyboard and mouse inputs can positively impact a child’s physical development.

Artax Games’ Bluey: The Video Game is slated to release this November.

Certain genres of video games, such as simulation and strategy games, encourage logical thinking and planning. These games often present complex systems that require players to analyze information, make predictions, and formulate strategies to achieve goals. The cognitive demands of such games can serve as a mental workout for young minds, contributing to the development of skills that are applicable in academic and real-world scenarios.

Games can promote perseverance and resilience. Many games present challenges that may initially seem insurmountable. However, through repeated attempts and learning from failures, children develop a growth mindset, understanding that success often requires effort and persistence. This resilience is a valuable trait that extends beyond the virtual world, preparing children to face challenges with determination and adaptability in various aspects of their lives. Am I saying we should have 5-year olds playing Dark Souls? Of course not, but taking a stab at a Super Mario game and learning the importance of repeated efforts and honing of skills, is sorely undervalued. 

Exposing children to video games early can spark a genuine interest in technology, storytelling, and creativity. In an increasingly digital age, understanding technology is becoming a fundamental skill. Video games, as a form of interactive technology, provide an engaging platform for children to become familiar with digital interfaces, navigation, and problem-solving within a virtual space. The fact of the matter is, we need storytellers now more than ever. The sooner that children learn that technology and storytelling blend as they do in games, the sooner they can begin charting that path for themselves.

Even Minecraft provides wonderful opportunities for children to learn the values of teamwork, patience, and consistency.

By that same token, the creative aspects of video games can inspire children to explore their own imagination. Many games allow players to create and customize characters, worlds, and even entire narratives. This creative freedom not only nurtures artistic expression but also encourages children to think outside the box and explore their own ideas. In essence, video games can act as a gateway to various forms of digital and creative literacy, preparing children for the evolving demands of the 21st-century workforce. Learn history while building a sprawling city in Age of Empires. Get a taste for world building in Minecraft. Or heck, even learn the value of organization with Unpacking. There are endless possibilities and endless positive outcomes.

Contrary to the stereotype of solitary gameplay, many video games today emphasize communication and teamwork. Online multiplayer games, like Roblox or Terraria, provide a platform for children to connect with peers, fostering a sense of community and collaboration. In these virtual environments, children learn to communicate effectively, collaborate with others, and navigate social dynamics—skills that are crucial in real-world interactions. There is always the risk of getting exposed to toxic communities, that’s a given; but early exposure to positive online communities and spaces will provide a healthy foundation and early example of what they can and should expect to remain safe and enriching. Cooperative gameplay ultimately promotes teamwork and teaches children the value of working together to achieve common goals. Whether solving puzzles, strategizing in a team-based setting, or engaging in virtual adventures, children learn to coordinate and communicate with others, contributing to the development of social skills that are applicable in both virtual and real-life contexts.

So, why am I emphasizing this so much? As someone who has a vested interest in watching their niece succeed in a world that seems more and more hostile to success, adaptation is key. The reality is clear: early exposure of children to video games can have far-reaching positive impacts on their cognitive, emotional, and social development. Through interactive storytelling experiences, video games engage young minds in a way that traditional forms of media cannot, fostering critical thinking, problem-solving, and a broader worldview. The development of cognitive skills, including logical reasoning and perseverance, further underscores the educational value of video games. It’s time to cast aside the stereotypes and, with guidance, moderation, and responsibility, provide an avenue for children to see the world in a new and meaningful way.

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