There is a great deal of controversy about whether to consider video games good, bad, or neutral for kids. While there are hundreds of studies demonstrating how video games can improve learning and foster brain development, there are also very serious concerns about video-game addiction and the health risks of excessive video-game play.
I attended the Games for Health Challenge at the University of Utah, where the keynote speaker was Dr. Jin-yee Shin. Dr. Shin, an infant and child psychiatrist, is also a member of the South Korean National Assembly and has a particular interest in the role of video games on youth. During her keynote address she described her interest in the high levels of academic achievement and video-game addiction seen amongst the youth of South Korea. Reportedly, 1 in 10 South Korean children (approximately 680,000 children) between the ages of 10 and 19 is addicted to the Internet. South Korean high school student students will have spent 10,000 hours in school but also 10,000 hours with video games by the end of high school. South Korea is described as the world’s most wired country, where almost two-thirds of the population owns a smartphone.
Dr. Shin proposed a bill to the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea in 2011 on the “four major addictions,” including Internet gaming with alcohol, gambling, and drugs. Because of growing worry about excessive video-game play, the South Korean government introduced a law in 2011 blocking Internet gaming for children under the age of 16 between midnight and 6 a.m. When she introduced this law, Dr. Shin reported that she viewed video games as a cause of addictive behavior. However since that time, she has reformulated her perspective on this issue. Now, rather than seeing video games as a cause of addiction, she views the games and the Internet as neutral. Based upon new research conducted by her friend and colleague Doug Hyun Han, M.D., Ph.D., her current perspective is that Internet addictions are related to a person’s addictive personality more than the games themselves. However, she continues to have very serious concerns about overuse of games.
In her speech Dr. Shin described how games can be constructed to promote positive psychology strategies. She related how games can promote relationships and improve meaning, achievement, positive emotion, and engagement.
Dr. Shin presented a well-balanced view of some of the positive and negative issues related to video games. Her perspective of games as being “neutral” resonates to other research in the sense that there are many positive aspects of games. Gameplay is an opportunity for learning but one that needs to be balanced with other activities, as well. An overreliance on games is likely to be unhealthy. This is exactly the perspective that I took in my book Playing Smarter in the Digital World. Children need a healthy “Play Diet” that includes a balance of social, physical, creative, unstructured, and digital play.