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Can video games be good for children’s imaginations?

10 Oct 2013 – 07:13 AM EDT

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When I was growing up, I had an Atari 2600 and an original Nintendo Entertainment System, but I never got to play them because my grandmother, who helped raise me, believed video games ruined children’s imaginations. (Obviously she never saw the graphics, especially on the Atari with its squared-off images. A child would need loads of imagination to determine what those things were supposed to be.)

When I became a parent, I felt the same way. I was panicked about child development and worried that if I let my young daughter play video games, the chances of her ever picking up a book were shot to nil. So instead, we drew, colored and sculpted — an art for which my daughter had a natural affinity — and did all the activities suggested for boosting children’s imagination. Madison and I would play elaborate games in the park and, when she got older, hide-and-seek Lazer Tag.

Eventually, I ended up softening my stance on video games. Madison’s grandmother pointed me towards sites such as Sesame Street, which had videos and games that, like the show, were both fun and educational. For example, in one game, the child presses any key on a keyboard and Elmo says the letter and word that starts with it. Not only did my daughter quickly grasp the alphabet (outside of the context of the ABCs song) but she also learned the keyboard.

As she got older, my daughter spent hours playing art games, where the child designs, decorates, and paints landscapes and characters. Now she’s into Minecraft, in which she designs and builds elaborate structures. Plus, she enjoys role-playing games, which typically involve creating and designing a character, then writing an elaborate biography for the character, and then acting out scenarios with her friends who also play the game. Because some of the role-playing games allow the user to design her own maps for the characters, my daughter has even learned a little coding.

Thankfully, she doesn’t obsess about playing video games, and I think it’s because she’s had ample access to them. And I needn’t have worried about her reading; it was an activity she took to naturally. To encourage her love of reading, this summer I allowed her to stay up as long as she wanted, as long as she was in bed with a book.

Just like anything we give to our children, video games can be abused. However, I found that with a little parental involvement (but not too much, so as not to make them not-fun), video games have taught my daughter useful skills and have stimulated her imagination rather than dull it. Just as with other games and activities, I just needed to pick the ones that are creative. And the best games are the ones you can do together.

Do you let your kids play video games?