5 Ways Video Games Teach Children Problem Solving Skills

Video games are a great opportunity for children to practice flexible thinking and creative problem solving.  Almost all of the most popular video games involve some degree of critical thinking, adaptability and the capacity to learn from one’s mistakes. These skills are all a part of the Flexibility thinking skill.

Whether you are using Flexibility to change your approach while knocking down towers in Angry Birds or being too predictable in your shot patterns in Wii Tennis, a player needs to adaptively make decisions and problem solve as game conditions change. The presence of change, adaptation, and creativity are core components of what makes games new and engaging for players.

The very best video games are also built so that players learn from their mistakes.  If you keep repeating the same mistakes, you are unlikely to make much progress in any game. This flexibility helps a player to adapt to new game conditions and be flexible in their thinking.  The thinking skill of Flexibility is often combined with other thinking skills such as Planning and Working Memory when players develop new problem-solving approaches to beat the game.

Here are some examples the ways that video games practice Flexibility skills:

  1. Learning from doing.  Many puzzle games encourage making mistakes and experimenting with new approaches as a primary means for figuring out how to beat a given level.  For example, in games like Cut the Rope, players  are given a unique problem with each level, and they must use trial and error and Flexibility in order to solve it.
  1. Games don’t just get harder–they get different.  Just like a student learning math does not simply do increasingly difficult addition problems (they need to learn multiplication, algebra, and geometry as they progress), most video games require the acquisition of different skills throughout gameplay in order to be successful.
  1. Learning from your mistakes.  Understanding what you’ve done wrong, and flexibly changing your approach is key to video game success, If you do not learn from your mistakes when playing video games, you will not enjoy them, nor will you be successful. This ability to alter strategies is a key component of problem solving.
  1. Death is not always a bad thing.  In video games, dying presents an opportunity for what psychologists refer to as deep practice. Deep practice is where you are put through a set of circumstances over-and-over with significant consequences for failure. This leads to the player becoming extremely focused on the task at hand, and as a result, learning more from the experience.  This type of deep practice has helped fighter pilots who die in simulated practice become better pilots in real life.
  1. Knowing when to give up.  Video games can often present a great opportunity for learning the skills of perseverance or task persistence, because they provide a fun way to keep trying on a task that initially appears to be overwhelming.  Yet at the same time, they can teach you very quickly that what you have been trying to do simply is not working and that you have to “flexibly” find another approach if you want to be successful.

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