Video Games Rewire Gen Y Brains

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Video Games Rewire Gen Y Brains

The members of today’s youngest generation, the Millennials or Generation Y, are the most technologically savvy in history. Unlike earlier generations, which had to adapt to new digital devices like PCs, mobile phones, MP3 players, and video game consoles, Millennials have never known a world that wasn’t digital.

While many parents view computers and the Internet as a mixed blessing, which can be used for work, education or entertainment, most assume that there is no real upside to video games. After all, the thousands of hours that young people spend playing with an Xbox, Playstation, or Wii gaming system are a waste of time: the cognitive equivalent of junk food.

Or, are they? A tsunami of new research indicates that video games are not only not a waste of time, but they are actually a powerful tool for learning, that just might separate tomorrow’s most skilled, productive, successful, and wealthy performers from the rest of their generation.

Before we delve into that research, consider a few statistics that show how widespread the use of video games is for today’s American youth:1

  • By the age of 6, 30 percent of all children have played a video game.
  • The average 8- to 12-year-old plays video games 13 hours per week.
  • The average 13- to 18-year-old plays video games 14 hours per week.
  • The average college freshman has spent 10,000 hours playing video games, compared to just 5,000 hours reading.
  • More than 80 percent of 8- to 19-year-olds have at least one game console at home.
  • In the U.S., sales of video and computer games, as well as game consoles, exceeded $10 billion in 2006.

How can teens have enough time to spend an average of two hours per day playing video games? Two-thirds of them don’t have jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the summer of 2006, only 37 percent of teens worked. That’s a drop of 11 percent since 1999.

Clearly, computer games are popular, but what makes them a positive force for teaching children and teenagers the skills they will need to excel in the workplace?

As recently reported on Discover.com, cognitive scientists are finding that video game play actually helps develop important mental skills, such as concentration, pattern recognition, systems thinking, the ability to delay gratification, and patience.2 According to University of Wisconsin professor of learning sciences James Gee, video game players must process multiple streams of information, just as the mind does in the real world...

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