Online gaming – The benefits

Online video games can be a way to help supplement your child’s learning and teach them key life skills. Get insight on how it can benefit your child’s development.

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How can online gaming benefit children?

Advice on how video games can make children smarter

Although online gaming is a form of entertainment, with parents’ support and guidance it can help children develop their creativity, nurture relationships with friends and improve strategic thinking.

It can also help them build perseverance to attain goals, build resilience and improve their communications skills so they know how to respect other people’s points of view.

Here is a list of ways that gaming has been proven to benefit children:

Learning and development benefits 

A great source to develop early learning skills for younger children 

Studies have shown that certain games can help younger children improve early reading skills with the support of parents and teachers. Games like ‘Times Table Rock Stars‘ that is used in primary schools and pre-school apps like ‘Endless Alphabet‘ can be great tools to help children learn in a more engaging way. Also, with the growth of connected toys, children can experience physical play while playing on devices. Educational toys like Osmo combines tactile play pieces with a device’s camera to bring to the in-play action to life.

Enhances memory, brain’s speed, and concentration

Games that are immersive and require strategy and problem-solving skills to win, require players to remember and take in a lot of information. Regularly playing these types of games can help improve children’s short and long-term memory and help the brain process information quicker.

Also, games capture players’ imagination helping them to stay focused on certain tasks and builds their perseverance to achieve a goal.

Improved multi-tasking skills

Games that require players to find items while fighting off other opponents call for attention to detail and quick reactions. Studies have shown that playing these types of games can help children develop their multi-tasking skills.

Build skills for future careers

The more complex multiplayer games help teach players how to be strategic, analytical to assess risk and reward and call for them to react quickly to changes in the game. All these skills that they use can be transferable to real-world jobs that rely on problem-solving, analytical skills and strategic thinking.

Offer a new way to understand culture and perspectives
As games allow children to immerse themselves in virtual worlds and at times connect to people from around the world, it can be a great way for them to learn about different perspectives and cultures.

Physical and social benefits

Group play provides social benefits

Whether children are playing multiplayer games with friends or using apps like ‘Heads up’ with the family in the living room, these types of games can help nurture relationships through shared moments and improve their social skills. For some who children who may have disabilities, it can be a way for them to social and make friends if they are restricted.

Family gaming

Best connected toys, games, and apps for the whole family to share

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Promotes teamwork and builds confidence

Multiplayer games allow children to take on a number of roles that allow them to learn how to manage a team if they are the leader or negotiate ways to win as part of a group. The shared experience can be a great way to collaborate and learn from each other to build children confidence.

Provides a fun way to stay active

The success of games like Pokemon GO and Zumba are an example of how games can help motivate children to stay active while gaming. Also, the rise of Mobile gaming apps means that children don’t have to be glued to a TV to play games, they can now, game on the GO. See our list of active apps that can help your child stay active while gaming.

Provide a way to develop compassion

There are a number of games and apps that have been developed to help children manage their emotions and encourage kind behaviour, compassion, and empathy. See our list of wellbeing apps to learn more.

Provide a safe context to talk about fears

Sometimes it can be easier to talk about worries in a virtual context and games may provide a safe place for children to express themselves.

Are a new way to experience stories

Immersive games can help children experience stories in a more engaged way and shape the way the story is told to spark creative skills.

Create time and space for deeper thinking about topics

Schools are now using game-based learning more and more to help students understand and think about complex topics to help build math skills (i.e. STEM) or get to grips with concepts in science. Gamifying learning and allowing children to see things in a different way can encourage them to grasps topics faster and in a deeper way.

Why do children enjoy gaming?

BBC Own it video showing young teen explaining his love for gaming

Gaming is a fun and sociable way to spend time, encouraging teamwork and developing skills. All good stuff, but there are a few things you need to be aware of:

  • Some games let children play and chat with anyone in the world. This means they might come across offensive language and bullying
  • Not everyone online is who they say they are. Children should avoid giving out personal details that could identify them or their location
  • Some games encourage players to buy extra elements during the game – children have been known to run up large bills without realising
  • In extreme cases bullying, also known as ‘griefing’, can be used as a tactic to win games. Children may find themselves either bullying or being bullied
  • Get involved by finding out what type of games your child enjoys and making sure they’re appropriate for their age
  • It can be hard to stop some games in the middle of a battle as there are penalties for quitting and children may feel they are letting teammates down.
It's immersive

Offers the opportunity to explore, build new worlds and take on new personas that you can’t do in the real world.

It’s open ended

Games offer worlds to explore that don’t dictate types of behaviour or where to go. Children enjoy this freedom as an extension of the playground.

It’s ongoing

Games offer an experience that can extend over a long period. Like a bed time story, regularly visiting a game and progressing the story is both comforting and compelling.

It's social

Many of the multiplayer games allow you to connect with people from all around the world and get real-time feedback on how well you are playing. Also, it creates a space where you can have a shared experience with friends and family to build teamwork and relationships.

It offers rewards

Depending on the games they play, players can get rewards as they move through the games and completely different levels.

It's competitive

The rise of eSports and games like Fortnite and Rocket League allow children to compete against each other to gain notoriety by winning.

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What are children doing while online gaming?

Many more children watch others playing video games rather than actually playing themselves. So much so that Let’s play videos – narrated videos of other people’s gameplay, often including jokes and humour – are the most watched live stream videos on video sharing platforms. Here are a few reasons why:

To learn new skills

Watching others can help children pick up tricks to complete stages of games, learn new strategies by watching walkthroughs and improve their gaming skills on a particular game.

To stay entertained

This is the biggest reason why children enjoy watching others gaming. It’s not just watching them play but its added bonus of the commentary which can be humourous. Some are done by popular YouTubers like Stampy so it’s a chance to get to know their personality and engage with them.

To interact with others

Children tend to share these let’s play videos with each other and discuss them together. If they are watching them live, they can also communicate with others watching and the person who is live streaming (which can often be a well-known gamer or YouTuber like PewdiePie).

What to watch out for

  • Adult language and Inappropriate content
    Some of the language that is used in the videos can be adult so it’s best to watch them with your child to get an idea of suitability. Also, if they are watching live streams it may be harder to control the type of content that they might see. Using the YouTube Kids app you can find suitable ‘Let’s Play videos that have been curated for children. There is also a YouTube channel called LearningWorks for Kids Let’s Play which provide tips to optimise game-play for children’s learning.
  • It’s passive screen time
    Although the watching the videos may help children learn new skills and socialise, unlike playing games, this is passive screen time so monitoring the amount of time they spend watching is important.

Online gaming FAQ

Take a look at answers to some key questions parents have about online gaming to support your child.

What makes a good video game?

Great games are those that both challenge and teach your child something that they can use in the real world, bringing to life experiences in new ways. But, there is also value in the virtual experience too. It enables children to prepare for a future where digital and real world life overlap. Like books, many games also enrich their lives because of their experience as a whole.

Take a look at family stories on AskAboutGames to get insight on age-appropriate games that will help your child do just that and allow the whole family to get involved and play together.

My child would like a career in gaming, how can I support them?

If your child would like to get into eSports (competitive gaming) or play a role in creating the video games of the future, starting early and learning more about the different jobs and opportunities the gaming industry can offer is important. It’s a good idea to help them broader their view of what’s available beyond the traditional roles of developers or streamers.

Take a look at the type of jobs that are available for them to do so they can pinpoint what would be best for them. Ask About Games have created a ‘Thriving Futures: A rough guide to game careers’ advice series which looks at what role are available and what steps to take to get started.

Here are some roles we’ve pulled out from the guide:

Game Performer

Game performers include voice over artists, actors, and even athletes and stunt experts who do motion capture work – meaning special cameras record their movements, and then use the recording in-game to make a fictional character move realistically.

Game Producer

There are many different approaches to game producing, but in general game producers keep everybody working on the same page, making sure a game comes together as planned, on time, to budget, and at a top standard. Sometimes game producing can be a managerial role, and in other cases, it can be creative. Game producers normal sit at the top of a team, working with lead game designers and game directors.

Game Writer

Often a game writer pens the script for a game, but they also do much more than that. Game writers might contribute ‘world building’, where they provide back-stories and supporting documents to help players – or fellow developers – understand a game world and the motivations of characters within it. Some world building content might not even be included in a game, but is vital to it feeling convincing. Game writers often deliver other in-game text and even work with performers and audio specialists to adapt game dialogue as it is performed and recorded.

Game Audio Specialist

There are many types of game audio role, from those that record and edit voiceovers, to composers that score game soundtracks, as well as game sound effect designers and creators, and recording artists that go out into the world to capture real sounds. Technical game audio roles see staff, for example, help make sound behave as if it were in a 3D space, or even develop ways so that music in a game can react to the action on-screen, changing by the second.

Where should gameplay happen?

Encouraging children to play in communal spaces as this makes you more able to share the experience. This ensures they can alert you to worries and you can tell how long they’ve been playing. Keeping them in family rooms turns gaming into a normal part of family life rather than something separate.

If they are a bit older and would prefer to play in their bedroom, consider steering them towards keeping the tech in a shared space. In any case, keep the conversation going about their gameplay and make sure your agreed rules are enforced to ensure they are safe while gaming.

What age is video gaming appropriate?

According to research children typically start gaming between the ages of 3 to 4 spending an average of 6 hours a week. There is no age specification on when they should start but it’s a good idea to manage the type of games they play to make sure they are beneficial to their development as they grow.

Also, thinking about physical safety is key. Some people have reported experiencing nausea when playing VR games so making them aware of what to do if they feel unwell is key. Prolonged sessions of gaming can also if affect developing eyes so it’s important to take regular breaks (every 20 – 30 mins) and set up gaming stations in a way that will allow them to minimise the negative impact on their body.

For younger children, there are plenty of basic games to teach them learning concepts or music. A lot of these games tend to be educational and encourage parents to monitor progress to see how well children on doing. Picking games that you can play together keep them motivated and help them develop key skills. Examples include Stardew Valley, Towerfall, Nintendoland, Spaceteam and Overcooked 2.

For pre-teens, there are plenty of sandbox games like Minecraft, and Roblox that allow them to explore and build new worlds to make it more immersive and engaging. These games give children the opportunity to be creative and use their imaginations.

For teens, the games available are more complex and immersive and tend to feature live interactions with multiple players. Examples include Fortnite or Apex Legends. These games may not seem like pure entertainment but there may require a level of strategy and forward planning to move through levels and achieve goals set by the game. With these types of games, it’s important to review them together with your child to make sure the content is suitable for their age and keep the conversation going so they know what to do if something goes wrong. Take a look at VSC to understand what the PEGI ratings mean on games.

Tips on how to choose the best games for children

With a large number of video games available for children, it can be overwhelming to figure out which are best for your child. We’ve created a checklist to help you choose games that will keep them engaged and support them in developing key skills.

Resources document

Need to create a family media plan? See this template from healthychildren.org

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Read reviews from parents

If you have a game in mind for your child, do some digging about it to see what others think about the game and potential things you should watch out for. There are a number of sites like AskAboutGames that offer parents’ insights on games and other types of media to help you make a decision.

Start with free games for younger children

For younger children, you can get them started on free games available through web browsers. It’s important to note that some of these sites may have phishing or spyware so, googling for games to play on browsers can be risky. Sticking to reputable sites like Nickelodeon and CBBC is best as they offer a range of games that are suitable for a younger audience that features their favourite characters. These games are also often focused on learning a skill or explore a theme which is great for young children. You could also download free apps such as Lego apps or make use of systems like DS and 3DS to download free games which are great for younger kids.

Mix and match the games to give your child a good variety

To ensure that your child is engaged and challenged, make sure to give them a broad variety of games to choose from. You could mix and match Shoot’em up games with Puzzle games to allow them to use different skills to play. Also, make some time to talk about the content in the games to get an idea of their understanding of themes.

Find games that the whole family can enjoy

As an alternative to board games, video games can help enhance family moments and create a shared experience to relationships. Choosing games like Heads Up or Tetris inspired Tricky Towers are a great way to enjoy screen time together.

Get more insight: Top 6 great family games to enjoy over Easter Holidays

Talk to other families about what they are playing

If your child has gaming friends, talk to their parents to get their point of view on games and get an idea of what their concerns may be. Check out popular game lists in app stores and game sites. This is a great way to look at trends and see what others are ranking as good games to invest in.

Consider games that enable the family to connect when not in the same place

There are a number of games that you can play together virtually, these are a great way to stay connected and create moments of shared experiences.

Check the rating

Use PEGI (Pan-European Game Information) ratings and App store ratings to get an idea of what type of content the game will have and decide whether the game is age-appropriate. It’s important to note that these are just indicators so we’d advise finding out more about the game through a review or other parents before giving it to your child. The Pegi App is a great way to get a view of the game’s rating.

Also, popular sites like Steam (a distribution platform for buying and playing games) do not have clear ratings so reviewing the games may be to only way to find out.

Base your choices on your child's interests

Dependent on what your child’s hobbies are or areas of interest, try and find games that will help supplement these to get them engaged. If your child enjoys football, fishing or racing cars there are lots of games with this theme. Equally, games like this can be good at sparking real-world hobbies.

Pick games that will challenge your child and keep them engaged

As they get more proficient in online gaming, playing web-browser games may become boring for them. Through regular conversations, check-in to see if they are enjoying the games and suggest more challenging games to make gameplay rewarding.

Play or watch together to get a better understanding of what the game features

Before investing in the game try a demo together. Studies show that children learn more when parents join in.

See resource: Kotaku Best video games to play with kids 

Consider the costs involved

Whether you are investing in a boxed game (one that you put in the console) or a mobile-based game that is free-to-play, it’s a good idea to consider the costs of involved.

Some games feature in-app purchases and market to your child through ads so it’s important to consider whether this is something that you would like your child to be exposed to. Equally, consider the costs of getting subscription services to play online like Xbox lie and PSN. Cost of hardware and extra controllers should be reviewed as some can run high.

Also, if you are planning to invest a lot, consider how long your child is likely to play the game to make sure it’s a good investment. Other costs might include needing to purchase additional controllers and get subscriptions to services that allow online play.

Genres of games available

Here is a summary of the types of games that are available for you to choose from.

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Action – This is the most popular type of game that focuses on players reaction time and hand-eye coordination with progression through levels. As this is a catch-all, here are some sub-sections of the genre:

  • Shooter games: Challenges player to target ‘enemies’ in the game to take them out to win the game
    Example: Overwatch
  • Beat’em Ups: Most of these games are based on martial arts and focus on players ability to win a fight against an opponent in order to win.
    Example: Double Dragon
  • Platform games: This is the most well-known action game sub-genre as it features obstacles courses, numerous levels to move through and opponents to defeat.
    Example: Super Mario 3D Land
  • Adventure: These are games that focus on problem-solving and puzzles with limited action.
    Example: Minecraft
  • Action role-playing: Features avatars that players use to move through the game and usually emphasises real-time combat.
    Example:  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Strategic: These games require the management of resources to survive and win the game.
Example: Portal Knights

Point & click: Adventure games the characters are controlled on screen with a mouse.
Example: Broken Age

Racing: Games featuring racing competitions with vehicles or characters
Example: Forza Horizon 4

Massively multiplayer game Online: Features multiple players interacting with each other in real-time through voice or text-based communication online.
Example: Fortnite

First-person: Games where players see the game through the eyes of the character throughout the game.
Example: Apex Legends

Party mini-games: Multiplayer games that are short and simple with a focus on scoring points to win.
Example: Mario Party 9

Sports: Features real-world games such as golf, football, etc.
Example: FIFA 19

Turn-based: These types of games pause to allow either another player to make a move or the computer to take a turn. There are other sub-genres including turn-based strategy and turn-based role-playing.
Example: Wargroove

Puzzle: Games with a focus on testing problem-solving skills, logic, patterns or word completion.
Example: Tetris

Simulation games: These are games that closely simulate real-world activities.
Example: The Sims

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Learn how to keep your child safe while playing online games to ensure they get the best out of their experience.

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Healthy gaming top tips

In addition to making your child part of the process of creating clear boundaries on what games they can play, when and for how long, here are some more tips to help them stay healthy when gaming:

Encourage your child to take regular breaks

  • Aim for a break every 15 to 20 minutes, even if it’s just looking away from the screen or going to get a snack.
  • If they notice that they are starting to feel annoyed or frustrated this is a good time to take a break.

Play games in open spaces

  • Playing games in the living room or a shared space can help keep you engaged in what they are doing and create opportunities to step in if you’re concerned.
  • This will also make it more likely that you can play games together with your child.

Show them how to stay respectful while gaming

  • It can be fun to compete against others but remind your child to be a ‘good sport’ and only say things they would face-to-face to keep communications with others safe. Check out our top internet manners guide to help them.
  • Encourage them to apply ‘digital civility’ principles by being compassionate, respecting others differences and seeking help if they need it or support others who may be experiencing online abuse.

Help them see the bigger picture when it comes to gaming

  • Make them aware of how games are created, how they make money and why certain themes are featured in games so they have a more rounded view of the games they play

Ask About games:  learning about the gaming industry

  • Help them understand how games make money and how they are advertised.

Encourage them to try challenging games that offer variation in activities

  • As well as staying entertained, playing games that challenge them and help them to develop life skills like problem-solving skills are a great way to benefit from their gameplay.

Encourage your child to notice enjoyment and frustrations

  • When a game hasn’t gone to plan it’s helpful to give your child space and help them process why it was frustrating.
  • This can lead to an understanding of emotions, as well as new strategies for how often they play and what they choose to play on.

Explain the importance of protecting their personal information

  • Help them understand that some people may not always be who they say they are in-game and could use their personal details to cause harm.
  • If they are under 12, it’s probably best to limit online interactions to video games where the other players that they know in real life. Also, most social networks have a minimum age requirement which you can use to decide whether they should be using these.

Make gaming active

  • Games like Pokemon Go and others encourage kids to game on the GO to combine what they love with physical activity. There are also plenty of motion-sensing ‘active’ games such as Just Dance or Zumba that they could play. See our active apps guide for some more suggestions.

Give them tools to use when things go wrong

  • Make sure they know how to report and block in-game abuse.
  • If they are playing multiplayer games, explain that if they see or hear anything that upsets them to talk to you or a trusted adult to deal with it

Resource for teens to learn about the risks of online gaming

Gaming advice by age