Wanna play a game? Sounds like a quote from the 1983 movie “War Games” where reality and gaming unintentionally converge nearly launching WWIII. Fortunately that was a movie. But did you know that game playing is beneficial on so many levels depending upon the game and type of play? Believe it or not, even those apps or popular online games that have been dismissed as mere addictive time wasters are gaining a new perspective and appreciation by researchers and practitioners. So if you brushed aside investing in gaming gifts this holiday season, you might wish to reconsider. But how do games help?
Think back to a time when we were oh so young. Oh boy, some of us need to summon a pile of memory cells. We learned through uninhibited play. Long summer days playing Kick the Can, kickball, tag, or playing with dolls or in Susie Homemaker kitchens (totally dating myself). We learned cooperation, motor skills, competition, speed, dealing with losing, deviousness, cleverness, compassion, cooking and so much more. Exercise disguised as play also provided us with a chance to release pent up energy and emotions while keeping our bodies in shape.
The most tangible evidence I have witnessed of the benefits of combining learning and play came through my kids’ elementary school physical education coach. From kindergarten through 5th grade, he worked with the kids to master juggling scarves and balls with their hands and feet often while singing. A savvy way to engage multiple parts of the brain and body yet the kids were none the wiser. Their focus was intent on keeping the scarves or balls aloft. I remember thinking how unusual this form of PE was as the kids excitedly demonstrated their dexterity and proficiency on my first Back to School Night. My own PE classes consisted of dodgeball, kickball, tag, and 5-yard dashes and not much else.
Fast forward a few years later, my husband was speaking with one of my son’s sport coaches. The coach said he always knew which athletes had attended the elementary school with the juggling Phys Ed coach because those kids were far superior in fine and gross motor skills than the rest. Not only that, they were more analytical on the field.
I also think back to my ADHD daughter whose fidgeting made it extraordinarily hard for her to sit through lectures or complete homework assignments. She was extremely bright (still is) so it is not that the work was too hard, but her focus was non-existent. Unless…she was playing one of her video games. Her hyper-focus was so intense that she rarely heard me calling for her. In fact, if our fire alarm was blaring, I doubt she would have noticed. Her brain was zealously engaged.
She was allowed to play her video games for one hour a day, all of which were educational so I considered it part of learning. From Magic School Bus to Roller Coaster or Mall Tycoon and a half dozen others, she learned about geography, science, astronomy, travel, problem-solving, finance and budgeting, marketing, engineering, categorizing, management, customer service, perseverance, delayed gratification, and deductive reasoning. Yes, they were all simulated but they introduced some difficult concepts via a method that no standard classroom was able to do. It was also no surprise to us that she pursued a degree in gaming and animation in college.
Heard about the recent Pokemon revival craze? Instead of playing cards, Pokemon Go is an electronic interactive game prompting participants to nix the couch potatoing and get out in the world to collect Pokemon characters on their electronic devices. My daughter was a fervent fan 2 decades ago when Pokemania began, and she vigorously hopped into action with Pokemon Go. This new activity energized her exercise and well-being program walking miles to capture rare Pokemon or beat other teams. Along with exercise, Pokemon Go enhances cooperation, socializing, collaboration, strategizing, competitive play, leadership and team building which are needed to attack and defend locations. Team members will often connect at one location then travel to the next destination in hot pursuit. She has met lots of new folks through this game. Inspiring travel to pick up Pokemon native to particular locations is another benefit. Statues and landmarks are incorporated into the game so players can learn about history as well as geography and cultures.
Rapid rewards, task performance, decrease in impulsivity, and increased executive function are also cited among benefits of game playing particularly for those with ADHD. Randy Kulman, Ph.D. and Founder and President of LearningWorksforKids, states “There is no question that playing video games affects the brain. Most of the existing studies suggest that video games can improve brain-based skills and help kids with ADHD. However, as with virtually anything else in the world, too much of a good thing is bad for you. If you drink too much juice, eat too much fruit, or spend too much of your time jogging, there will be negative effects. Helping your child have a balance of physical, social, unstructured, creative, and digital play, what I call a healthy ‘Play Diet,’ is vital. With video games, playing between 60 to 90 minutes a day appears to benefit kids the most.” I think the same could be said for adults, “everything in moderation.” Translation: if you find yourself battling zombies instead of dust bunnies or managing your virtual farm and livestock instead of your paper piles, it might be time for a priority reassessment or setting timers to keep you on track. If you have teen internet dwellers in your home, select a time that you believe is appropriate to limit internet access. You may choose to shut it down each night to prevent wee hour gaming.
All that being said, playing without some type of guidance how to transfer or generalize those skills into real world applications is less useful. For example, if you learn how to budget in order to keep your Tycoon Mall operational but have no clue that money needs to be earned in the real world and tracked through your own checkbook, you can find yourself in some fiscal nightmares. You might learn cooperation through team on-line gaming, but if you don’t translate that cooperation as an office team member, your job performance might suffer. Guiding your child to assimilate new skills acquired from the gaming with practical applications means they are truly learning and not time wasting. Adults can learn from games too.
Understanding the benefits of fun and learning through play has taught me several things.
1. That play and games are useful tools for augmenting our cognitive abilities.
2. For my clients on the Autism Spectrum, mainly ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, that motivation and endurance rely on discovering fun, enjoyable ways to tackle tasks.
3. And, actually everyone can benefit from making chores as fun as possible.
Amid the chaos and craziness of this time of year, channel your inner child. Schedule some play time for yourself. Taking time to energize, moving to shift your moods or allowing new thoughts to percolate, burning calories, or releasing stress is vital to overall well-being. Stress reduction has many health and well-being attributes. Unless you get tense during competition, it might put you in a more cheery frame of mind. Furthermore, we are more likely to engage in and sustain activities that we enjoy. Conversely, if we don’t like something, we will do our best to avoid it. Obviously to get stuff done around the house we need to find entertaining ways to get motivated and keep at it. Allow time in your schedule, yes easier said than done, to incorporate “me play time.” You will feel so much better when you return to tackle work the same way that vacations and sabbaticals enable us to refocus with a new purpose.
If you need a hand getting things done so you have more time for play, I can help. Reach out to ThePracticalSort.com for practical solutions.
Wishing you lots of fun, games, and happiness in a practical way.
Happy holidays from The Practical Sort.