Video games can have a positive impact on children if they have the right features, research says

New information can help designers understand what’s needed to support kids

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SAN ANTONIO – A new report says video games are able to make a positive impact on children if they possess the right features.

The report, which was done by New York University, UNICEF Innocenti and collaborating institutions, is the second in the Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children (RITEC) project and was done in three studies.

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“Many parents are concerned about screen time for their children, and this is the first study investigating the effect of digital play on well-being for this age group in the US, Chile, and South Africa,” said NYU Steinhardt Professor Jan L. Plass, who led one of the studies.

Researchers found that digital gaming companies and designers do have the ability to positively impact the well-being of children, through the games they produce.

The studies said gaming has a “particularly positive impact on children’s autonomy, competence, creativity, and identity when it responds to their deep interests, needs and desires.”

The research says that in order to support or enhance a child’s well-being, the games, however, need to be created in a way that targets an aspect of their development.

The report was done following a 10-week intervention involving digital games that included Lego Builder’s Journey and Rocket League with 255 children ages 8 through 12.

The findings showed US children with a greater need for belonging had more positive feelings toward their social and parental relationships and an improved sense of autonomy. Children in Chile reported greater autonomy and improved parental relationships and in South Africa, the digital play generally supported well-being for all children, the report said.

Games looking to support a child’s sense of autonomy should put them in control or allow them to make decisions about gameplay and encourage them to develop their own strategies to progress. To support creativity, a game could have children freely explore and solve problems or create their own characters or narratives, the report said.

“For decades, people have often assumed that playing video games is somehow bad for children, undermining their well-being. But our new study paints a far more complex picture—one in which these games can actually contribute to children’s well-being and positively support them as they grow up,” Bo Viktor Nylund, director of UNICEF Innocenti, said in the report.

The findings will be followed later this year with a guide to better assist businesses with the actual games they design.

“This research helps us understand not only how video games can impact the well-being of children, but also helps the producers and designers of these games understand what elements they can include to support children. We hope they will consider these findings as they design the games our children will be playing in the future,” Nylund said.

About the Author

Ben Spicer is a digital journalist who works the early morning shift for KSAT.

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