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Does Gaming Help or Hurt Children’s Cognitive and Social Skills?

Gaming Disorder

I’m half-heartedly paying attention to my 10-year-old son playing a game on the Xbox, watching him hang glide (I think) from some point up above down to the ground.

His character seems to be riding a llama and carrying a chameleon in a carrier on his back. He’s also carrying a very big gun. “Give me back my loot!” he suddenly yells at the screen, where his character is now confronting someone else dressed as strangely. “You’re cheating! Give me back my stuff!”

And so goes another game of Fortnite.

I can’t even begin to completely understand the game. I know it’s some kind of online battle game akin to Lord of the Flies or the Hunger Games, where they build fortifications and have a certain amount of time to “eliminate” other players. (I’m told it’s better to say “eliminate” vs “kill” because it sounds better.) There’s also dancing involved. Truth be told, I should probably be paying better attention, but I just don’t care. I didn’t care much for Minecraft, either, even when my daughter begged me to play with her.

But I’m just not a gamer, not since the days of Atari. I was very happy with Pacman, Frogger and Q*bert. I could swing on vines in Pitfall with the best of them.

According to the World Health Organization, maybe I should be paying more attention. Earlier this year, the WHO classified gaming disorder as a diagnosable mental condition. WHO says people with the disorder have a hard time controlling how much time they spend playing video games, prioritizing them above all else and showing negative behavior because of it. The classification has come with a lot of controversy, particularly from gamers, many of whom use gaming as a social activity. Some colleges have even formed esports teams for gamers to play each other.

Fortunately, research shows that most gamers, especially online gamers, have very little to worry about — that gaming can even help children’s cognitive and social skills. Still, some experts say it’s worth being aware of the time children spend on games to make sure they don’t take over their lives. That I can relate to. My son would probably play a combination of Fortnite and Roblox, another popular online game, all day if I let him.

This month in the Health Journal, writer John-Michael Jalonen takes a look at gaming disorder and what WHO says about it. He also talks to parents and the coach of a new college gaming team. Take a read and figure out for yourself if you or a loved one are spending too much time with a game controller in hand instead of out in the real world.

About the author

Kim O'Brien Root

Kim O'Brien Root was a newspaper reporter — writing for papers in Virginia and Connecticut — for 15 years before she took a break to be a stay-at-home mom. When the lure of writing became too strong, she began freelancing and then took on the role of the Health Journal’s editor in Dec. 2017. She juggles work with being a chronic volunteer for two PTAs
and the Girl Scouts. She lives in Hampton, Virginia with her husband, a fellow journalist, their two children and a dog.