“Play” Time VS. Video Games

If you have kids (or you are still a kid at heart), then you have probably heard of Fortnite. In case you haven’t, Fortnite is basically the multiplayer video game phenomenon that has taken over the world! Launched in 2017, it is now one of the most successful video games ever. In a nutshell, Fortnite is an open-world survival game where gamers collect resources, make tools & weapons, & try to stay alive as long as possible. As of January, Fortnite is said to have an astonishing 45 million active players across all platforms! To really think about that… Forty-five million active players – playing just one game! Imagine how many gamers in total there are out there!

It is clear that today’s “play” time is likely to involve some sort of technology. Of course, that means that there is less time being spent outdoors – being physically active & more time spent sitting in front of screens. It’s like… do we ever really get a break from viewing a screen, then? This reality certainly leads to a variety of questions & concerns, but in this blog post, we want to focus on just one – does playing video games appropriately fulfill a kid’s playtime?

Over the last few years, more people are returning to the understanding that kids need playtime. It is a core component of social & emotional development, physical health, & academic growth. Thankfully, more leaders in the education sector are advocating for this understanding & pushing to increase opportunities for learning through play within the school day. The main question is what does “playtime” look like in this era?

Playtime defined is “a time for play or diversion” or “a time to play and have fun”. If you’re a gamer, you would clearly equate video games to fun, but do our bodies acknowledge sitting in front of a screen, in deep thought (often times aggressively fighting to make it to the next level) as fun?

Let’s start with the good news…

Studies have shown that playing video games can have a positive effect on attention. Both sustained attention & selective attention – being able to focus on a specific piece of information while tuning out unimportant distractors – can be improved by playing video games.

Other research has shown that gaming can increase the size & efficiency of brain regions associated with visuospatial skills – the ability to identify visual & spatial relationships among objects. Furthermore, there’s even some evidence supporting hippocampal growth (a brain region associated with memory) in long-term gamers.

Now for the bad news…

First, let’s talk about blue light. The blue light emitted by screens, in particular, can throw off the body’s biological clock & disrupt sleep.

While there can be some benefits to playing video games, both on behavior & brain health, it’s not a risk-free hobby. Playing games for an extended period of time on a regular basis isn’t good for your physical health & can possibly hinder your social skills.

Being active is a critical aspect of our overall health. Not only does it keep us physically healthy, but it also affects mental health positively by helping improve brain function, increasing endorphins, & it can reduce symptoms of anxiety & depression.

While many video games are multi-player, it’s still important to get out & form in-person social ties. Studies have shown that people with strong social ties to friends, family, and their community, are happier & live longer than people without those ties. Furthermore, people who are lacking social connections are at a higher risk for depression & cognitive decline over time.

The takeaway…

Our minds & bodies at all ages need to engage in unstructured physical movement – active playtime! Since we spend so much of our time these days in front of screens, choosing video games for quality playtime isn’t necessarily the best choice. Overall, we should make a point to monitor our screen time. To help you in creating your screen time goals for you & your family, here are a few recommendations.

  • Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting.
  • For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching & talking with you.
  • Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programming.
  • For kids & teens, limit screen use to around 2 hours per day.
  • For kids & teens, on weekends & holidays, perhaps 3-4 hours of recreational screen time is a reasonable amount.
  • Try blue light blocking glasses.

References:

  1. Brooks, M. (2018). How Much Screen Time Is Too Much? Retrieved March 14, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-happy-life/201812/how-much-screen-time-is-too-much
  2. Care, N. (2018, December 18). Are Video Games Actually Bad for You? Retrieved from https://www.neurocorecenters.com/blog/are-video-games-actually-bad-for-you
  3. LeBoeuf, S. (2018). What is Fortnite?: A look at the video game that has become a phenomenon. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/what-fortnite-look-video-game-has-become-phenomenon-n887706
  4. Line, H. (2018). More Than 2 Hours of Screen Time May Affect Kids’ Brains. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/more-than-2-hours-of-screen-time-can-hurt-kids-brains
  5. Pediatrics, A. (2018). Children-and-Media-Tips. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx