Research on video game use by children has illustrated the potential for serious harmful effects of overuse, including increased hostility and aggressive behaviors as well as decreased time spent on physical activity, interaction with family and completing schoolwork. While these negative effects are a real concern for parents, new research is illustrating the potential for video games to be used to improve children’s health and development. Research has suggested that playing video games may actually enhance children’s development of visual cognition by improving mental rotation skills and visual and spatial memory. Enhanced visual cognition may have a variety of benefits – further research indicates that surgeons who regularly played video games as children make significantly fewer errors in the operating room than other surgeons. When the surgeons were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and given certain game-like tasks, it appeared that those who regularly played video games were able to access and utilize an entirely different part of the brain to complete these tasks. Though the full implications of such findings warrant further examination, they provide an interesting insight the effects of video games – and the environment as a whole – on a child’s developing brain.
Research also suggests that video games have the potential to provide an effective alternative form of education, and some schools have begun to incorporate video games as a teaching tool in the classroom. Quest To Learn, a new public middle school in New York City, centers its curriculum on the use of visual media, and video games in particular, as learning spaces for educating children. The school, which takes a “systems” approach to learning, uses technology as a tool for teaching standard middle-school curriculum, with additional classes on video game design. The “game-like” lessons are intended both to hold children’s attention and to teach them to apply knowledge on a certain topic (e.g. fractions) to other domains of thinking and learning.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University are also integrating technology, games, and child development. Dr. Kiju Lee, Schubert Center Faculty Associate and Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has been working with colleagues to develop sensor-integrated geometric blocks (SIG-Blocks), a technologically improved version of the basic geometric blocks children have been playing with for decades. While geometric blocks are already a commonly-used tool for assessing children’s cognitive and learning processes, SIG-blocks provide automated, computerized feedback mechanism for measuring fine motor skills and indicators of cognitive growth. These data may be used by parents and health professional to monitor an individual child’s development, and to conduct research to enhance our understand human cognitive development.