Electronic games as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle

Blamed for many of the country’s faults and the negative impact it has on children, it can be argued that the electronic games industry has a lot to answer for. Of course, there are many instances where the sedentary effect it has on children has, in part, contributed to the number of youngsters who now suffer from obesity and weight related problems, but to blame it entirely for these problems would be unfair. Interactive entertainment in the form of the electronic game also brings a string of benefits that can really help children if it is balanced well with a healthy lifestyle.

The massive expansion of the electronic games industry
From its humble beginnings the electronic games industry has expanded at a furious pace and even in this difficult economic climate it still continues to thrive. The Playstation, Xbox, Wii and DS are now firm household names and with continual updates and changes sometimes it’s hard for parents to keep a-pace with the latest successive models. Considered as trendy and modern, the influence and impact of the games industry on children and young people is particularly enormous and bending into peer pressure to purchase the latest console is a financial challenge many parents face every year or so.

Traditionally, most electronic interactive games have required the user to remain fixated on a screen using thumbs and fingers to control the accompanying handset to play the game. But over the last few years there has been a move away from this way of gaming, most notably with the introduction of games that require physical participation. After a particularly long period where electronic games were specifically marketed and targeted at young people and children, Nintendo has moved into pastures new over the last few years by targeting the previously untapped adult market with its range of DS brain training games and Wii fitness games. This enlightening breakthrough has had interestingly positive results.

Another form of gaming that has seen great growth has been interactive adventure games that are played on the internet. Sites such as Disney’s Club Penguin have proven hugely popular, offering an interactive way for children to play together in a safe way. It is expected that there will be an increase in this form of gaming and safe social networking in future. But what are the implications of playing these games? And perhaps, more importantly, are there any benefits to our children?

The benefits of electronic games to children
The physical, cognitive and emotional development of a child is crucial to how they will grow, and a well-rounded approach to learning at a very young age will stand them in good stead later in life. A key part to learning is to use various methods of interaction, be it with other people, with books, with music - even electronic games can find a positive place in this loop, in a supplementary role, although it should never replace human interaction. If used in moderation the benefits to children can include:

  • Interactive games and consoles can offer a great resource for children to learn the basics of maths and reading. Many pose challenges to test problem-solving skills and help a child to learn strategies to deal with a different set of situations. Puzzles, maths and brain training or taking care of a virtual pet can all stimulate creativity and logical thinking.
  • Gaming toys can feature a number of different fun tools such as video cameras, motion sensors, webcams, microphones and stylus’ that allow the children to fully engage in the game by singing or dancing or writing. This of course helps them learn new skills and stimulates interest.
  • New generation computer games encourage physical activity, by getting the children to play standing up and move in different ways. This physical interaction has a positive effect on general behaviour.
  • Some games help to improve balance, tone muscles and build stronger bones.
  • Many games can be very addictive so always set a time for how long your child is allowed to play with the toy. Make this time-limitation clear when your child starts to play with the console and stick to the agreement – when the time’s up it’s time to pack it away! This will help them learn some form of self-discipline.
  • Many interactive forms of entertainment encourage two or more people to play and with many family orientated games now bombarding the market, choosing one to play with, may help to strengthen the bond between generations.
  • Modern life throws an enormous set of demands at parents who cannot always spend time with their children. So, if the console is used as some form of distraction it’s better to choose games that are fun as well as being educational.

Complementing gaming with a healthy lifestyle
It has been reported that playing active computer games on the console is no substitute for traditional forms of exercise. Active Wii games can partly contribute to an increased level of fitness, but a recent British Medical Journal study found that the energy used playing Wii sports games was not of a high intensity. In fact their research suggested that Wii players used only 2% more energy than players of regular computer games.

To reduce the risk of developing major chronic diseases later in life, the Chief Medical Officer’s advice states that children need to be physically active for 60 minutes every day of the week. As studies show, active parents tend to have active children, so we should lead by a good example and try to get keep fit together.

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