Play is a fun and sociable way to spend time, encouraging teamwork and skill development. All good things, but there are some risks you need to be aware of to help them stay safe and have a positive gaming experience.

Here is a list of the benefits and risks gaming could have on your child.

What are the benefits?

A great source for developing early learning skills for younger children 

Studies have shown that some games can help younger children improve early reading skills with the support of parents and teachers. Games like ‘Times Table Rock Stars‘ which is used in primary schools and preschool apps such as ‘Endless Alphabet‘ can be great tools to help children learn in a more engaging way. Also, as connected toys grow, children can experience physical play while playing on the devices. Educational toys like Osmo combine tactile game pieces with a device’s camera to bring gameplay to life.

Improve memory, brain speed and concentration

Games that are engaging and require strategy and problem-solving skills to win require players to remember and acquire a lot of information. Playing these types of games regularly can help improve children’s short- and long-term memory and help the brain process information faster.

Additionally, the games capture players’ imaginations by helping them stay focused on certain tasks and building their perseverance to achieve a goal.

Improved multi-tasking skills

Games that require players to find objects while battling other opponents require attention to detail and quick reactions. Studies have shown that playing these types of games can help children develop their multi-tasking skills.

Developing skills for future careers

More complex multiplayer games help teach players how to be strategic, analytical to assess risk and reward, and ask them to react quickly to changes in the game. All of these skills they use can be transferable to real-world jobs that rely on problem solving, analytical skills and strategic thinking.

Offer a new way to understand culture and perspectives

As games allow children to immerse themselves in virtual worlds and sometimes connect with people from all over the world, it can be a great way for them to learn about different perspectives and cultures.

Physical and social benefit

1. Group play offers social benefits

Whether kids are playing multiplayer games with friends or using apps like “Alert” with family in the living room, these types of games can help nurture relationships through shared moments and improve their social skills. For some children who may have disabilities, it can be a way to socialise and make friends if they are limited.

2. Promote teamwork and build trust

Multiplayer games allow children to take on a variety of roles that allow them to learn how to manage a team if they are the leader or negotiate ways to win as part of a group. Shared experience can be a great way to collaborate and learn from each other to build children’s trust.

3. Provides a fun way to stay active

The success of similar games PokemonGO and Zumba are an example of how games can help motivate children to stay active while playing. Plus, the rise of mobile gaming apps means kids don’t have to be glued to a TV to play, now they can play on the go. 

4. Provide a way to develop compassion

There are a number of games and apps developed to help children manage their emotions and encourage kind behaviours, compassion and empathy. 

5. Provide a safe context for talking about fears

Sometimes it can be easier to talk about concerns in a virtual context, and games can provide a safe place for children to express themselves.

6. They are a new way of experiencing stories

Immersive games can help children experience stories in a more engaging way and shape the way the story is told to stimulate creative skills.

7. Create time and space to explore topics

Schools are now increasingly using game-based learning to help students understand and think about complex topics to help develop math skills (i.e. STEM) or grasp science concepts. Gamify learning and allowing children to see things differently can encourage them to grasp topics faster and in a deeper way.

What are the risks of online games?

While there are some great benefits to online gaming for young people, it’s important to be aware of some of the risks that could impact their well-being.

Games can offer young people a sense of escape from the reality of the world, and the social aspect of some games can help children feel part of a community. However, without the right guidance on which games to play or when to play, children can be exposed to certain risks such as bullying in play, online care or in some extreme cases gambling addiction.

1. Contact with strangers

Management of online interactions

Like many things in life, video games are a lot more fun when played with other people. Recently this has gone from playing with people in the same room to other people online.

Additionally, the number of people who can play a single game has significantly increased. Fortnite’s popularity stems in part from its inclusion of 100 strangers in the same battle to the death.

Growth of the social network in games

In addition, the level and types of communication online games offer have evolved significantly in recent years. Considering that games have been viewed separately on social media, they now overlap significantly with online social sharing sites. In fact, most children’s first interaction with someone they don’t know online is now more likely to be in a video game like Roblox than anywhere else.

Use of characters to hide real identities

In these games, players don’t necessarily know who they are playing with. People online in games may report being other children, but it’s hard to validate if this is the case. For this reason, parents and caregivers need to understand their children’s games and how to set them up safely.

Managed sensibly, playing with other children online can enrich a child’s enjoyment and also connect them with others from around the world with different cultures and perspectives.

2. Gambling

Use of in-game and in-app purchases

Online video games require relatively complex hardware to participate, along with a high-speed internet connection. This can create the perception that you need the latest technology for your child.

However, there are many ways your child can play video games online without breaking the bank. Older tablets and smartphones are a good example of this. Even older models can offer a comprehensive way to enjoy online video games. Apps like Roblox can give kids access to the game even on low-end devices.

In-game and in-app purchases and freemium games

Other costs parents should be aware of are those that occur after the initial purchase or download of the game. An increasingly popular way to finance game development is to offer games for free but then charge for the content or characters in the game – these are called freemium games. Fortnite is an example of a free game that makes a lot of money from its in-game purchases that unlock new outfits and dances.

3. Behaviour

Fight against cyberbullying and online hatred

Due to the interactive nature of video games, where players participate in on-screen action, parents may worry that this will affect children’s behavior. This is especially true when younger gamers experience more violent games not necessarily designed for their age group.

No direct link between violent offline behaviour and video games

However, contrary to popular belief and many newspaper headlines following violent incidents involving teenagers, no direct link has been found between video game violence and violent behaviour.

In their book, Moral Combat, Markey and Ferguson show that although the increase in video game sales to teenagers has soared over the years, there has been no related increase in violent crime. In fact, they suggest the opposite is true: that games can play a role in keeping teens out of the way and out of trouble.

However, it is important for parents to understand how video games affect their children. Parents may not be aware of the actual scenes their children will experience in the games before playing them. It is therefore imperative that parents use PEGI ratings and related information that provide a detailed account of the violence, sex and language contained in a video game.