Video games are bad for kids, right? It’s a message we’ve all heard countless times (and have probably said ourselves!) but science says not so fast. In a recent study published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (PIBBS), researcher Richard E. Meyer outlines just how video games can actually help improve students’ cognitive functions and enhance their learning capabilities in real and useful ways.

kids happy at school!

This research comes on the heels of a major push from gaming advocates for a “sweeping transformation of traditional education,” to replace traditional teaching methods with a game-based curriculum in the country’s schools. Meyer and his team sought to better understand the implications of game-based instruction on children with this study.

Meyer found that first-person shooter games and spatial puzzle games can actually lead to substantial improvements in cognitive skills in kids, and found that game-based instruction in science specifically can actually be more effective than the traditional book and lecture teaching methods.

There were five specific components of these games that proved most helpful to students:

• Putting words in conversational style rather than formal style

• Putting words in spoken form rather than printed form

• Adding prompts to explain key points in the game

• Adding advice or explanations at key points in the game

• Adding pregame activities that describe key components of the game

Three laughing primary students sitting with laptop on sofa

Beyond those two types of games with those specific elements, Meyer found there is “no sufficient evidence [that] supports the claim that playing computer games can improve one’s mind in general.” He conceded that there is a small role that game-based instruction can play in teaching; mostly to supplement traditional methods with games that are well-targeted and become more challenging as the students learned.

He also warned that just because the students liked playing the games, it doesn’t mean that translated into learning. Further, while first-person shooter games may encourage kids to focus, reason, strategize and think quickly, they’re still overtly violent, aggressive and addictive.

It seems (as is the case with most everything in life!) that using game-based instruction in moderation can very well help students process and retain certain information, but unfortunately for all those gaming teachers out there, a book and chalkboard is still the way to go.

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