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Challenge: Back to School 2021

Maybe It Is All Fun & Games (plus some learning)

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No matter your thoughts on gaming, the facts are that many young people play video games. I work with teens and their parents, so I often hear from the teen why they love to game, but then from the parents about why they don’t want them to play.

But perhaps there is a middle ground??

I decided to ask Aubrey Quinn, Senior Vice President, Entertainment Software Association, her take. Given her position as a voice and advocate for the gaming industry, I thought she could shed some light on the benefits of playing.


Ok - so let’s kick this off with you sharing about the learning that can come from gaming. Are there really skills that can be acquired from playing video games?

One of the highlights of working in the video game industry is learning about the many ways that playing games are good for us. In ESA’s 2023 Power of Play report, we highlight findings from more than a dozen academic studies on the benefits of video games. For example, playing video games can improve attention control and reading comprehension. Children who play video games display higher cognitive performance than those who do not. And it’s not just children either – playing video games can help fight dementia and other cognitive declines. But my favorite finding from the research is, “video games strengthen the ability to learn how to learn.”

It’s interesting to see how video games have evolved from a singular experience to more community-based. While there are definitely cool aspects to that, I know some parents are concerned about what safeguards are in place to ensure it's a safe experience?

Video games have long been a social activity – think about video arcades or friends playing games together on someone’s couch. What is relatively new are online multiplayer games, which allow us to play with family and friends – or strangers with similar interests – all around the world.

My oldest son (age 19) is at a college across the country. But regularly he gets online to play video games with his little sister (age 10). It is so fun watching them stay close despite being 2,000 miles apart.

It’s important that parents talk to their children about “stranger danger” with online interactions the same way we do in the real world. All video game consoles have parental controls where you can limit who your kids play with online – or block them from playing online with others altogether. It’s important to understand what platform your children are gaming on (e.g., console or PC or tablet) and look into those controls and set the limits that feel right for your family.

In our house, I have different rules for my teenagers than I do for my 10-year-old. The good news is, there are plenty of options for every parent or guardian to set the rules and limits that are best for their own family.

I wonder if parents would understand the benefits of gaming if they participated in it with their kids? How can parents be more involved in the video game experience or demonstrate good habits?

Playing video games with your family is so much fun! I love games that let different generations work together to overcome challenges, conquer levels and discover new worlds. There are also games that are great for competition, like racing or sports, or games that get us dancing and rocking out. And chances are if your kid loves a character from books, TV shows or movies, there is a game that will bring that character to life in your home. It’s so magical!

For good habits, I recommend a couple things:

  1. That parents take the time to understand ESRB age ratings. All video games and apps have age ratings, just like movies and music. The same way parental controls can be set up to limit online interactions, they can also be set to block games based on ESRB age ratings. Parents should be clear about the rules for your family on age ratings. I have no problem telling my daughter that she does not get to play “M for Mature 17+” games because she is only 10. There are a few “T for Teen” games I let her play, but only after I’ve checked the ESRB content descriptors to understand why it has that rating.

  2. If you have expectations on time limits for video games in your house, communicate those clearly as well. Parental controls can be used to set time limits for playing games. We have specific limits set for weekdays and weekends. If she wants additional time, she must ask for it – and the password-protected parental controls app on my phone is the only way additional time can be added.

Playing video games with your kids is a great way to show them how to deal with failure – I fall off cliffs more times than I clear them when I get a new game. They get to see mom try, try and try again. And if we get frustrated, we try a different game or put the controller down and take a break. Resiliency is such an important life skill and video games are a great, safe way for kids to practice it.

I know teens I work with would love to have data to support that video games help their future - Are there examples of how video games are used to show aptitude for careers, certain skills?

One of the facts I love the most is that girls who play video games are three times more likely to receive STEM degrees at college than those who do not – and this is the case even after accounting for socio-economic background, race/ethnicity and other factors.

Globally, video game players believe that video games improve their creativity, problem solving, cognitive, and teamwork and collaboration skills – all essential for successful careers.

I’m sure you hear from people that “gaming is bad”, but I have a feeling that’s not true. What do you think are the most common misconceptions about the video game industry as a whole?

There is an outdated stereotype that the average gamer is a young teenage boy. The truth is, just as many Americans today over the age of 45 play video games as do kids under 18. The average age of a video game player is 32 years old. And about as many women (46%) play video games regularly as men (53%).

I also have found that some people assume video games are all violent. Again, just like with TV shows and movies, there are mature video games with adult themes. But they are the exception, not the rule. In 2022, half of all games rated by ESRB were rated “E for Everyone”. And of the top 10 selling video games in 2022, seven were rated either “E for Everyone,” “E10+” or “T for Teen.” In fact, two of this year’s most popular games are Hogwart’s Legacy - rated T - and Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (rated E10+).

The truth is, video games are a great way to have fun and to play with others. And I think we can all agree, play time with your kids is a great thing. It’s simply a bonus that there are so many social, emotional and mental benefits to playing video games beyond entertainment.

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