Online games - can they be educational?

A publication in Nature magazine 2003 showed that players of video and online games have better hand-eye coordination and visuo-motor skills, such as their resistance to distraction
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Aug. 7, 2011 - PRLog -- One of the big concerns for parents is if and how online games ( damage the child’s educational development, how time spent on online games reduces time spent learning, and just if there are any educational or developmental benefits to online games.

Untold Entertainment, whose motto is “the use of entertainment to improve, rather than degrade, the human condition” have come up with a way to help develop the child’s imagination and skills.

Ryan Creighton was with his daughter at a ‘game jam’ in Toronto when he got the idea for Games by Kids. Like a science kit that a family can use to conduct simple experiments on a lazy Saturday afternoon, he assures us that it will engage both the parent and child alike.

But are there generally any developmental benefits for children from online games?

Online games and video games can be considered here in the same mould.

According to the Entertainment Software Association in the US more than 68% of American households play online games or video games. And the effects of excessive viewing have been well documented – the journal Pediatrics showed a direct relationship between video game playing and attention problems at school. The study found that exceeding over 2 hours a day gave a 1.5-2 times likelihood of attention problems at school.

But it also turns out there are benefits too. The University of Rochester’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences found that found that video games help improve contrast sensitivity, or the ability to see subtle shades of gray. Lauren Sergio from York University in Toronto found via brain scans “…non-gamers had to think a lot more and use a lot more of the workhorse parts of their brains for eye-hand coordination,” she says. “Whereas the gamers really didn’t have to use that much brain at all, and they just used these higher cognitive (centres) to do it.” Employers including hospitals, the U.S. armed services and many police departments use video games to help doctors, soldiers and police officers work on skill development.

A publication in Nature magazine 2003 showed that players of video and online games have better hand-eye coordination and visuo-motor skills, such as their resistance to distraction, their sensitivity to information in the peripheral vision and their ability to count briefly presented objects, than nonplayers.Researchers found that such enhanced abilities could be acquired by training with action games, involving challenges that switch attention between different locations, but not with games requiring concentration on single objects. It has been suggested by a few studies that online/offline video gaming can be used as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of different mental health concerns.

Virtual worlds (VWs) are often dismissed as merely games without any educational benefits. But there are plenty of informal learning opportunities for kids in these environments, particularly as these are often children’s first experiences with online communities. Participating in a virtual world can help kids learn how to communicate and behave online.

VWs can also be utilized to help bridge the gap between online and offline ethics. One virtual world, MiniMonos, for example, has an environmental theme and tries to make sustainability methods clear to its users. If you don’t recycle around your avatar’s treehouse, there are in-world consequences. The virtual world also ties it to the real world, rewarding users for various environmental actions they take.

It’s this connection to community that may be one of the greatest benefits of virtual worlds, offering kids a place to experiment and expand socially, particularly the free games type, giving children an opportunity to participate in a large social environment, often unsupervised by their parents. As always, parents should make sure they know where and what their kids are doing online.

Although they may be a relatively new phenomenon, the fact that kids under 13 are embracing them suggests that we’re only beginning to see the potential of these online communities.

Stirrings from the Sony camp may lead to some exciting new innovations – Sony recently announced their HMD device (head mounted display) which Mike Hocking (SCE Studios executive) sees as heading in the right direction for virtual reality ‘you can see that we can now get back to where we really wanted to get with virtual reality in the ’80s…. We’ve now got the power to do it, we’ve got the screen resolution to do it, we’ve got the processing power to update fast enough so we can have very immersive experiences on head-mounted displays in gaming in the not too distant future… Being in a virtual world where I can see my virtual hands or a virtual gun with all the things we can do in the gaming world is going to be absolutely amazing.’
Source:Matthew Brown
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