What Parents Think Their Kids Learn From Video Games

One parent has put Modern Warfare to educational use for their four-year-old. Another tktktk. These are the things the parents among you told us.

Yesterday, Kotaku ran a post about a mum in Orange County, California who doesn't want video games in her home. She doesn't think games would enrich her kids' lives.

I asked parents to weigh in. If you have kids, what do you want, think or hope they get out of games?

Here are some of the responses.

This comment was from a parent of a child who is learning from games ranging from Lego Star Wars to the M-rated Modern Warfare:

I have a 4yo, he's been playing xbox since 3 and wii since 3 1/2. first we were amazed at his ability to use the controller, it taught him some colours and the associated letters. then we were surprized at his ability to associate controls to the display to solve puzzles in lego starwars/batman/jones. Now he is intently learning to read to play games with stories, also he has learned to lengthen his attention span knowing he cant skip the mission briefings, he's also learned teamwork and humility when playing with a 6yo, who is not so willing to work together and share. He stays at his grandpas on sundays where he has been playing MW2, he killed 6 guys in a round last sunday. Now he started playing the H3 campaign and is moving right along. if he asks for help we make it a puzzle or a math problem or a spelling bee for him to move on to the next mission. oh and hes also learning how to use various maps. He wants to be an astronaut like the master chief. Hell Ya!

This one (quoted only partially here) was from another parent of a four-year old, whose gaming has apparently taught him some ideas about physics and morals:

We discussed the nature of bravery and cowardice while witnessing the interaction between Amaterasu and Susano in Okami.

We have discussed the nature of good, evil, power and greed while explaining how Anakin Skywalker is both a good guy and a bad guy in Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga.

I watched him discover that not all in the world is as it seems (and I emphasised the fact through conversation) after he discovered his first invisible block in Super Mario Bros.

This comment (quoted only partially here) has a parent extolling the virtues of reading via video games:

My youngest boy has been struggling with dyslexia his entire educational life. Playing games where (like the above father mentioned) there are complex menus and a requirement for understanding of context (as in Mass Effect's conversation trees) has improved his reading ability significantly. Now, he isn't the top of his class, but he no longer needs the "special help" he once did in order to get A's and B's in school.

I'm not sure if this comment was from a parent, but this reader provided some counter-argument:

Lets be honest most "Popular Games" don't require analytical thinking or planning or creativity. Sure you might find the one game out of 30 that require you to use the grey matter, but for the most part, they will not. MW2, probably the most popular game in recent history was just basically a rail shooter. Even the competitive component favours twitch reflexes over actual planning and tactics. WoW, the most successful game to date does not require analytical thinking or analysis.


My parents never bought me video games and I was allowed to watch TV only 2 hours a day during the school week. But I was allowed to play outside as much as I wanted provided I did all my school work. Did I hate it? Yes. It sucked never having any of the good games and only getting to play them when my friends got bored with theirs and would lend it to me. It sucked only watching cartoons for 2 hours a day. My parents motto was they would not waste money on useless things, so if I wanted them I would have to buy them myself. So I started working as soon as I could so I could have enough money to buy my own toys/games. The only game I had through all of High school was Starcraft, cause I couldn't afford a computer faster than 133 megahertz. So I played it almost religiously for 4 years.

And here's one more counter-argument, suggesting that, hey, maybe games aren't that enriching:

I'm extremely conflicted here because I love video games and always have. However, I do think that these arguments hold some weight. Many of you claim that video games have done good in your life because you are interested in history or science after having played a related game. But how many of you have truly become great or given back to the world in a major way that you could attribute to your video game playing? If you look at all the highly successful people of the world (the great scientists, novelists, entrepreneurs, artists, etc.), how many of them are hardcore gamers? Probably not many.

Sure, you may have a college degree and a decent salary, but really, I don't think that's very difficult. I went to Georgia Tech, #5 engineering school in the country, and now have my Mechanical Engineering degree. I've got an apartment on the beach and a decent job. But I honestly don't think I've reached my full potential partially because after a long day of work, I just love dominating people in MW2 too much. I'd rather do that than come home from work only to continue working towards my other ambitions.

Finally, I got this email from parent Jamey Tisdale, who gave me permission to reprint it here:

I've got a 9 year old and two 7 year olds. All boys. They are allowed to play Xbox about once a week, sometimes more and DS on occasion. What do they get out of it?

Well they get to think creatively, whether building their own levels and environments (working with each other to build a level in Lego Indiana Jones for a few hours, or a track in Trials HD) that they then get to test. They have to learn/work on communication skills in dealing with each other and negotiating not only what they are going to play next but what they are going to do in a particular game. They've beaten Castle Crashers a few times and absolutely dig all the Lego games.

They've all been introduced a bit more to music through Rock Band, danced silly to DDR and love to sing (quite on pitch) to Lips. They also get that there are games they can't play just as there are movies they can't watch yet. (Comparing things to the negative reaction they had on Splash Mountain at Disneyland puts things into context about when you're old enough for some things).

I'm not a parent. I'm married. No kids. I'm not sure what I'd expect my kids to get from games. Amusement alone wouldn't be such a bad thing. But are there more positive things to get from them? And negatives too? Thanks to all who had their say.

As gamers get older and have more children this is a top that will only become increasingly more relevant. What do we who play pass on to the next generation, for better or worse?


    I hate the argument that people haven't given back to the world in a significant way in a way they can attribute to playing video games, as if the person believes it somehow devalues games or that there's no reason to do ANYTHING unless it somehow benefits everyone else.

    They are entertainment and if you personally gain something worthwhile while having an entertaining experience then so much the better.

    The fact is there are passive skills we employ while playing video games that we aren't even aware of. You can look at a game like Modern Warfare 2 and say "ah, that's just twitch gameplay, you don't need planning and strategy".
    I saw little things, like knowing the best routes to flank, where to expect enemies and how best to employ killstreak rewards - even what loadout you take into a particular map/gametype - pretty much define strategy.

    The fact is, we need our downtime and can't go through life constantly being 'switched on'.
    I'm at work 9 hours a day, I have 3 hours worth of commuting and usually sleep about 6 hours a night. I do the grocery shopping, help with the cooking, spend time with my wife and play with our cat. Oh, we also play video games to unwind because there's usually nothing worth watching on TV. If I'm not reaching my "full potential" I doubt it's because I like to kill digital enemies in a virtual playground for an hour or so each night, and I resent the implication that I'm a worthless oxygen theif because I haven't created a great work of art or discovered the cure of super cancer.

      I second that. I'm not pretending MW2 is going to make you into a super genius, but anyone who has played it for a significant amount of time knows that tactics pay off big time. Sure, they might be as simple as "jump around corners, go prone when in a close range firefight, use slight of hand if you have small magazines", but how often do you think that analytically whilst watching TV?

      Video games are getting better and better at making us think about moral choices too...games like Fable 2 give you moral choices and consequences. (yes, I know, the choices were very black and white and Peter Molyneuausucuax is a wee bit of a wanker, but my point stands)

    Did I read the first one right? A 4 year old playing MW2?

    Just more confirmation that Gen X are even worse parents than the Baby Boomers were.

      Im highly impressed that a child of that age could play a game such as that, and get 6 kills in a multi-player round. I have friend who have been gamers for years who couldn't play that well. Just goes to show how much kids are growing up with technology, and I'm all for it.

    Well the same can go for comic books and TV really. one could argue that no one has done anything monumental and had these entertainment mediums to attribute to them. I think we're all a little guilty of playing more games than we should (except those of us who have our hours dictated for us, like these kids) and it just comes down to switching off and going and doing something productive with your day.

    ... once in a while.

    You've got to be kidding me. A 4 year old playing Modern Warfare 2. Is the parent retarded or something.

    Sure Mario or something equivelant is fine, but MW2 come on how irresponsible is that.

    I am in the early stages of preparing a research thesis on this exact topic.

    First of all: First Person Shooters are rated M-MA for a reason. The violence can have a strong affect on young children.

    HOWEVER, it can provide teenagers with lateral thinking skills - especially games like Farcry 2 which require you to think out an attack before you do it. Fallout 3 is similar, as well. It can also be used as source material to bring up issues around morality and ethics.

    Real Time Strategies are excellent as well - Seven Kingdoms and Age of Empires started my love of ancient history, and eventually into teaching the subject.

    Railroad Tycoon and Theme Hospital can teach/encourage business management skills as well.

    Games are useful when used right. A four year old playing MW2? That's not how it works, sorry.

    "Running around in a dark room eating pills while listening to repetitive music didn't influence me"...lol...

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