Research published by University of Rochester neuroscientists C. Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier has grabbed national attention for suggesting that playing “action” video and computer games has positive effects – enhancing student’s visual selective attention. But that finding is just one small part of a more important message that all parents and educators need to hear: video games are not the enemy, but the best opportunity we have to engage our kids in real learning.
Any observer knows that the attitude of today’s children to video and computer games is the very opposite of the attitude that most of them have toward school. The amount of time they spend playing computer and video games – estimated at 10,000 hours by the time they are twenty-one, often in multi-hour bursts – belies the “short attention span” criticism of educators. And while years ago the group attracted to video and computer games was almost entirely adolescent boys, it is now increasingly girls and all children of all ages and social groups. One would be hard-pressed today to find a kid in America who doesn’t play computer or video games of one sort or another.
The evidence is quickly mounting that our “Digital Native” children’s brains are changing to accommodate these new technologies with which they spend so much time. Not only are they better at spreading their attention over a wide range of events, as Green and Bavelier report, but they are better at parallel processing, taking in information more quickly (at “twitchspeed”), understanding multimedia, and collaborating over networks.