At a glance
While there are downsides to playing video games, there are also surprising benefits.
Video games can help kids build skills and make social connections.
Kids who play video games are often very creative.
There are clear watch-outs for families when kids play video games. Some kids have trouble shutting down or transitioning off games. Others have mood swings during or after playing, or become hyperfocused. And there are kids who are totally consumed by games. However, there are some upsides, too.
Here are six surprising benefits of playing video games.
Studies show that kids who play video games may get a small boost to their reading skills. This is true even for kids who struggle with reading, and even when playing action games.
Researchers think that this may happen because kids need to figure out text instructions to play. There’s also a fun factor. Kids who are reluctant to open a traditional book may rush to read a website or internet forum to get the latest on their favorite game.
That doesn’t mean video games should replace books, though.
2. Visual-spatial skills
Many games — like Minecraft — are set in 3D virtual worlds that kids have to navigate. And there’s no GPS or smartphone map app to lead the way.
The result is that kids who play these games have the chance to practice their visual-spatial skills. This can lead to a better understanding of distance and space.
At the heart of every video game is a challenge. Some games can be mindless, like Space Invaders. But many others — from puzzles and mysteries, to managing virtual cities or empires — offer kids the chance to take on a problem and work to find a solution.
Some researchers say kids who play these video games improve in three areas: planning, organization, and flexible thinking. But don’t get too excited about this. It’s not clear that these gaming problem-solving skills carry over into daily life. And there’s no evidence that so-called “train the brain” games can improve real-world skills.
4. Social connections
Some kids have trouble fitting in and making friends in real life. Video games can be a refuge for them to find people to connect with in positive way. In our busy lives, games offer virtual playdates with real-life friends.
Video games also give kids something to talk about at school. These days, games are a mainstream topic of conversation for kids, just like sports and music. An interest in gaming can help kids who have trouble coming up with topics to discuss.
On the flip side, kids who struggle socially in real life may also have trouble online. Learn how this can play out in multiplayer online video games.
5. Imaginative play and creativity
When kids are young, there’s a lot of space for imaginative play, from LEGOs to dolls to make-believe. But for tweens and teens, society sometimes frowns on that play. Video games give kids a chance to continue imaginative play.
There’s also some evidence that games encourage creative thinking. In one study, 12-year-old gamers were asked to draw, tell stories, ask questions, and make predictions. All the kids showed high levels of creativity and curiosity.
6. Video gaming careers
The 16-year-old winner of the first Fortnite World Cup won $3 million. The other 99 solo finalists won anywhere from $50,000 to $1.8 million each.
Just as with professional sports, the chances of becoming a professional video gamer are very small. However, the video gaming industry is growing by leaps and bounds, much faster than traditional sports and entertainment.
There are lots of careers in this growing industry — careers like coding, marketing, or running events.
Those are some of the potential benefits of video games. Now learn how to choose video games and apps for your child.
Video games give older kids a chance to continue imaginative play.
Kids can get extra reading practice through video games.
The gaming industry is growing, and your child’s interest could spark a career.
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About the author
About the author
Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.
Jodi Gold, MD is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice.