Gaming has a stigma of being dangerous. It is often blamed whenever there is a tragic act of violence committed by a young person. It is something I have fiercely denied for a long time. Gaming is simply an easy target for those who don’t have the time or effort to explore some of the deeper issues surrounding violence. Besides, for the media, a sound-bite about how Grand Theft Auto caused a teenager to shoot someone is more dramatic than an investigative piece examining the effects of poverty, mental health, etc.
However, I wouldn’t just deny that smartphone games are having a negative effect on kids. I would actually argue that they can be enormously positive. It is something that hit home this weekend as I sat and watched by youngest cousin, aged 7, engage in a game of Ruzzle on his mum’s smartphone. Ruzzle is a simple smartphone game that challenges you to find words amid a jumble of 16 letters before the time runs out. You score higher points for finding complex words or using uncommon letters.
My cousin sat on his device for close to an hour playing the smartphone game. At first, he was failing to find anything better than low-scoring monosyllabic words, but as he played the game more and more his vocabulary began to enhance. With some encouragement from the adults around him he was not just finding ‘has’, he was finding ‘haste’. He was understanding the differences between tenses, plurals and much more.
It made me realise what an impact smartphone games can have on a young child’s mind. It is not just Ruzzle teaching kids about spelling and the English language; there are plenty of other games in the App Store that can help entertain and educate children at the same time. There are games that enhance memory like Elephant, there are games that encourage creativity like Draw Something, and there are puzzles like Flow that test logic.
So gaming may have a stigma of being dangerous, but I certainly believe smartphone games have the capacity to make kids smarter and more creative than ever before.
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