Thursday, January 22, 2009

Video Games Are Good For Kids, Say Experts

(StatePoint) We've all heard about the negative effects video games have on kids. Play them too much and their brains will turn into mush.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Instead of trying to get kids to kick the video game habit, experts now say gaming can be good and are encouraging youngsters to delve deeper by actually creating their own games.

"Making their own games while interacting with others during the creative process is a great way for kids to exercise their minds and strengthen key social skills. They also develop a proficiency in technology that's sure to benefit them in today's wired workplace," said Pete Findley, founder and CEO of Giant Campus (www.giantcampus.com), an education company offering youth technology camps.

"The stereotype that gaming is a solitary, violent, anti-social activity just doesn't hold up. The average teen plays all different kinds of games and generally plays them with friends and family both online and offline," said Amanda Lenhart, a Senior Research Specialist with the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which recently conducted a national survey on kids and video games.

There are many Web sites, software programs and books on the subject of how to make your own games. However, one of the best ways for kids to tackle this challenge -- without fear of them getting bored or overwhelmed and simply giving up -- is to enroll them in an online camp where they can learn with other kids at the instruction of a professional teacher.

Findley's Giant Campus, for instance, is offering a video game design course along with other high tech courses that are conveniently scheduled during school breaks - such as mid-winter break (February 16-20) and spring break (numerous camp weeks spanning March 30 - April 24). The online course offered to 10 to 17-year-olds takes place for two hours on consecutive days with participants logging in from anywhere for instructor-led demonstrations, practice sessions and project time. By the end of the course, each will create his or her own multi-level arcade game.

"We need to focus less on how much time kids spend playing video games and pay more attention to the kinds of experiences they have while playing them," noted Professor Joseph Kahne, Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College, and co-author of the Pew report.

According to the Pew researchers, video game playing can incorporate many positive aspects of life, with 76 percent of youth reporting helping others while gaming. And 44 percent reporting playing games where they learned about a problem in society.

Game playing experiences are diverse, with the most popular games falling into the racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure categories.

Online technology camps are a great way for kids to dip their toes in the water to find out if they want to get more serious about creating their own video games. At a little more than $100, online camps are a convenient and cheap alternative to other educational camps.

For more information on gaming courses offered as part of Giant Campus' online camps, visit www.giantcampus.com.

"When you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, many say they want to make video games for a living," Findley said. "Even if they don't become the creators of the next 'Guitar Hero' or 'Super Mario' game, learning and participating in such a course is a great way to develop creativity, problem-solving and teamwork skills."

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