I was in New York City recently for the Games for Change Summit, where keynote presenter Jane McGonigal reminded us how computer games can change our lives through enhancing our personal development, helping us learn and adding years to our lives. Heady claims.
Yes, we know that games are engaging and get us moving at twitch speed. We've heard they can change how our brains are wired and how we learn. But did you know that games make us happier, that they enhance our emotional resiliency? That they can help us build the mental resilience we need to trust, to take risks and to fail? That they can increase our confidence in self, our sense of self-efficacy?
McGonical backs her claims with evidence from the fields of psychology and neurology. She makes a strong case for the role of gaming in positive youth development. For example:
- Young cancer patients who play Re-Mission learn why painful treatments make a difference in their health, and become more treatment compliant, even if they only play once. That's because game play where we take actions and overcome challenges follows through to life experience and feelings of self-efficacy.
- Youth who play DoJo learn strategies and techniques (breathing, self-talk, relaxing muscles, etc.) to control their emotions and calm themselves. Then they advance to stressful game situations where remaining calm is essential to mastering the challenge. Biofeedback tools shown on the computer screen monitor reactions to stress and challenges as you play, and the actions needed to win can only be accomplished if your muscles are relaxed and your breathing slow.
- Haiti is a role-play computer game developed for the Red Cross for the purpose of getting people to stay at home and send money instead of things to disaster victims. Using real video from the aftermath of the earthquake, players take on the role of survivor or aid worker and mimic the "rationalizing mental chatter" that can lead to poor decision making. The player learns to first do no harm.
It's summer, traditionally, a time to play. What games are you playing? For some ideas, check out this list of 100 games that everyone should play.
After you have tried a few, share what you learned from these games. Have they made you happier, improved a relationship with a friend, or made you feel differently about what you can accomplish? How can 4-H, and other out-of-school venues for youth development, take advantage of games to promote youth learning and development?
-- Trudy Dunham, research fellow
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