Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Are Active Video Games Worth It?

Parents, let me ask you a question.

What is your policy on video games? 

That may elicit a wide range of responses, but the majority of you would likely agree that video games are harmless in moderation, and that your kids can only play after they’ve done all the chores and homework for the day. Video games are a luxury to indulge in sparingly. Parents who oppose video games usually do so for three fundamental reasons:

  1. Some games can depict graphic violence or inappropriate content 
  2. They distract from more pressing duties like school, family time, and socializing 
  3. Video games by their nature discourage physical activity 
The gaming industry has been working to address all three of these concerns over the past few years. They’ve thoroughly addressed the first point above by placing clear warnings on violent and graphic games. Now parents feel more informed about the content of a game before they or their children purchase it. The industry paid attention to the second point as well: more and more educational video games are being made available to children of all age levels. Word games, puzzle games, and basic math exercises exist on any number of gaming consoles. But it’s the third point, the point about video games and the lack of physical activity, that has given them the most trouble.

If you go to your nearest video game or electronics retailer, you’ll be bombarded by games that advertise as highly interactive. Dancing games, games that simulate sports, and even out-and-out exercise games are all the rage now. You might be tempted to buy any of these titles in an effort to meet your kids half way about video games. “You can play video games, just as long as they give you as much exercise as you would if you were playing outside,” you might imagine yourself telling your kid. Some of these games boast that they provide a totally interactive and fun calorie burning experience for children who wouldn’t normally be interested in exercise.

But are these games too good to be true? 

A recent study published in Pediatrics magazine suggests that supposedly active video games might be misleading about their…well activity. The study observed the physical activity of about 80 kids over a 12 week period. Half of the kids were given physically active games and the other half were given games which required no physical strain at all. The study found that neither group exerted any physical activity worth noting.

There could have been many things going on with the above study, not the least of which was its small sample size. But it does beg the question of whether or not physical activity belongs in the realm of video gaming at all. I appreciate the transformative element that video games offer for kids, and I recognize that some of the best games in the industry impart surprisingly poignant and educational themes to their players. But I will need a lot more convincing if I’m going to believe that children are better off dancing on a pad in front of a TV than they are playing outside with their friends.

What’s your take on active video games?

This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes for online university. She welcomes your comments at her email: katherynrivas87(at) Baranowski T, Abdelsamad D, Baranowski J, O'Connor TM, Thompson D, Barnett A, Cerin E, & Chen TA (2012). Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children's Physical Activity. Pediatrics, 129 (3) PMID: 22371457

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