There are many people who criticize them: the belief that they make you dumb and stupid and get you hooked is so widespread that it's not unusual to find lots of people who claim that videogames are harmful and damaging in comparison with other recreational activities, for example reading. But, are we sure about that?
Just like books, there are many kinds of videogames and they’re not all bad and, of course, not all good. There's a huge variety of videogames, with different kinds of games to suit each type of player; there are even some that encourage reading. And sometimes we forget that videogames also tell stories, that behind every good videogame there is a creator who has invented characters, settings and a complex story with numerous possibilities.
The opportunity to interact offered by videogames allows children to engage with what they are doing, it allows them to find creative ways to achieve goals and objectives, try all of the different options and experiment and think logically to try to meet a specific objective.
Just because it’s more or less a new language that we don’t know doesn’t mean that it’s harmful; just like reading, videogames are beneficial for development and, like everything else, when used appropriately, they’re a good leisure option that is just as valid as reading.
Videogames also exercise hand-eye coordination, for example, and teach them new visual languages, increase their attention span and, one of the most important parts of child development: teach them to resolve problems for themselves.
Just like anything else, overdoing it is not good; videogames can limit access to other types of equally important leisure activities that offer other types of experiences and benefits, like reading, playing outdoors and sport. But we must bear in mind that there are high-quality videogames that avoid violence and sexism, nothing like the ones that immediately spring to mind when we're thinking about them, and they introduce other types of human relations; they promote values such as ecology and teamwork and they are a source of knowledge.
That doesn’t mean that videogames should be the only type of recreation which a child should be able to access; a videogame is no substitute for what reading has to offer, by any means, but it works both ways. As ever, the answer is to find a balance and, of course, not to demonize videogames, pitting them against reading, because if we force kids to read and ban them from playing videogames, all that will happen is that in the child’s mind they will associate one with being fun, and the other with being boring and this will mean we're doing more harm than good to their development of a taste for reading. Extolling the benefits of reading and demonizing videogames will only have the effect of making them reject reading, which is of no benefit to anyone.
If we manage to strike a balance between reading and audiovisual languages such as videogames, the recreational possibilities increase and children have the potential to develop more skills. So, next time we think of videogames as a dangerous or harmful form of leisure, we need to remember that they share a narrative with reading which, just because it's different, doesn't make it harmful.
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