In addition to understanding the many real concerns that today's parents have with video games, it's also worth considering the benefits and positive aspects that contemporary interactive entertainment choices provide.
"Games can definitely be good for the family," says the ESRB's Patricia Vance. "There's plenty of selection. Oftentimes I think parents feel that they're not because video games in the media are portrayed as violent, and hardcore games tend to get the lion's share of publicity. But parents also need to be comforted knowing that E for Everyone is by far largest category [of software]. Nearly 60% of the almost 1700 ratings we assigned last year were E for Everyone, which means there's a huge selection of games available that are appropriate for all ages."
In fact, most video games do have quite a few redeeming qualities - even those with violent content. All games can and do have benefits for players, and in a number of different and sometimes surprising ways.
Educational Benefits for Students
A recent study from the Education Development Center and the U.S. Congress-supported Ready To Learn (RTL) Initiative found that a curriculum that involved digital media such as video games could improve early literacy skills when coupled with strong parental and teacher involvement. Interestingly, the study focused on young children, and 4- and 5-year-olds who participated showed increases in letter recognition, sounds association with letters, and understanding basic concepts about stories and print.
The key for this study was having high-quality educational titles, along with parents and teachers who were equally invested in the subject matter. That way kids could discuss and examine the concepts that they were exposed to in the games. Also interesting is the value that video games are proven to have even for very young players. A study by the Education Department Center further found that low-income children are "better prepared for success in kindergarten when their preschool teachers incorporate educational video and games from the Ready to Learn Initiative."
Games that are designed to help teach are having an impact on college-age pupils as well. Following a recent 3D virtual simulation of a US/Canadian border crossing, wherein students assumed the role of guards, Loyalist College in Ontario reported that the number of successful test scores increased from 56% to 95%.
Future career choices for today's tots will no doubt be influenced by technology in a way that is difficult for many parents to imagine too. Skills learned and honed playing home console and video games, as well as mobile gaming apps, will undoubtedly be very valuable to students in the workforce of 2025.
As mentioned earlier, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has proclaimed that kids need more, not less, video game play. They argue that video games hold the potential to help address one of America's most pressing problems - preparing students for an increasingly competitive global market.
"The success of complex video games demonstrates that games can teach higher-order thinking skills such as strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, and adaptation to rapid change," the Federation announced in a 2010 report. "These are the skills U.S. employers increasingly seek in workers and new workforce entrants."
Games are increasingly being used to educate and instruct workers around the globe by governments, trade bodies and the world's largest corporations as well. From Cisco Systems' The Cisco Mind Share Game, which facilitates network certification, to the US Department of Justice's Incident Commander, in which emergency responders practice coordinating disaster relief efforts, the number of practical examples continues to grow. In fact, a recent study by the Entertainment Software Association found that 70% of major domestic employers have utilized interactive software and games for training purposes, and nearly eight out of 10 plan on doing so by 2013.
Going forward, in addition to polishing your resume and interview skills, who knows? You may even want to brush up on your button-mashing abilities.
All parents know that kids need a healthy combination of physical and mental exercise. Happily, today's motion-controlled games for Microsoft's Xbox 360 Kinect, Nintendo's Wii and Wii U, and Sony's PlayStation Move help kids get both kinds of workouts at the same time.
Organizations supporting individuals of all ages and interests are additionally using active games to help get people up and moving. Nursing homes, cruise ships and even after-school programs all now employ active video games in some form to help stimulate both the mind and body.
The good news: People seem to be enjoying active play more than ever. Healthy diversions such as Wii Fit and Zumba Fitness continue to be some of the most popular and best-selling games year in and out.
Group & Social Play
Video games can also have some very important effects on family relationships, and deserve to be thought of as something that can - and should - be played together.
Families that embrace playing video games as part of their everyday life are likely to find themselves enjoying a greater sense of cohesion and communication than families who still view video games as an idle, meaningless and solitary pursuit. As a result, it's small wonder that so many in this day and age are putting away the cards and dice and turning to high-tech alternatives for modern family game nights.
Moving, thinking, cooperating, helping, learning, empathizing, growing, seeing the world from other perspectives... video games can help kids and families do all these things and more. So talk to your friends, do the research and seek out games that your family likes to play and that you as parents are comfortable with, then consider making play a part of your regular routine. Chances are, you won't just have a great time - you'll also make lasting memories and connections with your kids while doing so.