Digital Games and the Learning They Have Inspired

We stop for tanks. Because my boys play military-type digital games, they can rattle off the names of military vehicles and their specs. Furthermore, they have become interested in learning more about history (for the first time), especially WWII. Since my husband is a history professor, he can fill in a lot of information for them. He also tries to temper their excitement over the games with the knowledge that real war is not fun.

More than anything else in the world — and yes, I think that includes piano and birds — my boys love their digital games. Nothing depresses them more than not being able to play. If I needed to punish them, this would be the only way to punish them — to take away their games. Luckily, I’ve never had to do that. They are great boys.

The boys have played many different games over the last few years. They each have tablets, and my eldest son built his own computer with his father’s help. Both boys take turns playing games on this homemade computer. My husband is solely responsible for the games they play, and he helps them find the games. Most of the games are free or very cheap, but for those games that cost money, he always waits for them to go on sale. I put my trust in him that there is nothing in these games that is inappropriate for young boys, but that’s not to say I would agree with him on everything. Still, I can’t do everything, so I leave it all up to him.

This endeavor is a completely “guy thing,” at least in this house. I have no interest in any of these things, but that’s okay. I’m glad the guys have something they do without me. And despite being the least interested person in the house when it comes to gaming, I’ve enjoyed sitting on the sidelines and observing all the good things that have come from my boys playing digital games. Here’s a few reasons why I don’t mind the digital games:

The boys are bonding.

My boys are great companions, and the games make them more so. Sometimes they play the same game together; sometimes they will watch over each other’s shoulders. When they aren’t playing, they discuss the games together, and their dad talks with them about the games a lot too. They  all have something in common through the games, and even the youngest can join into the fun.

Strategy and team work.

These games use the boys’ brains in so many different ways. I hear them discussing how they’re going to build this or how they will accomplish that. There are games that they can play together, such as Mindcraft, and they have worked together to build things. (Interest in Mindcraft comes and goes in our house, though.) They have gone to battle together in war games too.

The games inspire learning and creativity.

My boys can rattle off the names of military tanks, ships and airplanes, and they know most of the specs too! Other games, such as Spore, let them start as a cell and evolve into a creature that they have created. Other games have taught them about survival, dinosaurs and engineering. Because they get interested in these topics, they sometimes want more information about the topics. Most recently, my boys have watched YouTube videos about WWII with their dad, and we even took them to the WWII museum in Colorado Springs on our trip this summer because of their interest. What they learn in the digital games also spills over into their everyday play and make-believe. Both boys have built military-style vehicles out of cardboard, sometimes they draw them, and my youngest attempts to build a variety of things with zoob pieces too. The games certainly do not corrupt their brains (as some might believe), but they stimulate them.

The Games They Play or Have Played

Games can come and go out of fashion in this house, but then sometimes they revisit games too. I asked the boys to tell me what their favorite games were now and in the past, and this is what they gave me. I can’t tell you much about them except that my 10-year-old and 7-year-old love them.

(I hope I have added the right links. Many of these can be used on Apple and Android products, but I linked to the Google Play for some of them, if I couldn’t find a better website.)

Spore
Wings of Duty Flight Simulator
War Thunder
World of Tank Blitz
Joy City War Ship Battle
Black Flight
ARK
Hungry Shark World
Jurassic World
Jurassic Park “The Builder”
Mindcraft
Forest Sim
Falcon Sim
Orca Sim
Lego Star Wars Complete Saga
Lego Star Wars The Clone Wars


It Doesn’t Stop There: Gaming Videos

My boys’ second favorite pastime after playing digital games is watching someone else play the games on YouTube. They watch a couple of videos in the evening before bed, and this is more than entertaining. It actually helps them learn how to play the games better. You have to be very careful when you’re looking for gaming videos on YouTube though. Many of them are NOT kid-friendly. The only gamer our boys have watched so far is Poet Plays, and he seems to run a pretty clean show. He has so many videos (and he continues to make them) that my boys won’t run out of videos to watch for years. My boys told me it’s more fun watching Poet play Mindcraft than actually playing the game itself, and they also love watching him play ARK because that’s a hard game for them to play.

Do we impose limits? Yes.

Every afternoon they play for about an hour, sometimes a little longer. We offer what I like to call “generous limits” when it comes to screen time. (This is a term that Lori Pickert uses.) We watch a lot of T.V. together as a family (and separately), and they can play digital games everyday, and on certain days — or on long car rides — they can play even longer. We also have a good routine going. We make sure their days are filled with a variety of activities, so they are not playing all day. (Click here to read about our daily schedule.)

I don’t believe that digital games (or television) will hurt a child’s brain unless they are used as a long-term substitute (i.e. a babysitter) for interaction/conversation with family and peers or engagement in other productive activities. (Of course, we all have days when we need to “veg out,” and the kids might get more screen time. What I’m referring to is children who do not have conscientious parents.) When adults monitor what children are watching, and if the screen time is used as vehicles for learning, discussion, and yes, when appropriate, for entertainment and relaxation, then I think it can be a very positive thing.

Of course, all kids are different and react differently to digital games or television. You have to decide for yourself, if it’s a positive or negative thing for your child and act accordingly.

Having said this, my husband and I do worry about the long-term effects of gaming  when it comes to our boys’ hands/arms. He and I both have (sometimes severe) pain in our hands, arms, and shoulders from using computers and other digital devices, and we’ve only been using them since we were in our twenties. We don’t want our children to develop carpal tunnel at an early age, so we limit them to one hour per day. I have no idea if it’ll make any difference, but I worry about kids who spend hours a day on computers and digital devices. On the flip side, maybe starting early will develop muscles that will compensate for the pain my generation is experiencing. (If anyone knows about any research into this matter, I’d be very interested in learning about it.)

Whew. I’ve been promising to write this post for a long time, and now it’s done. What digital games do your children like to play?

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