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The Gifted Resource Center of New England


There are many reasons to play games. People play games to pass the time, to build skills, to socialize and to win money and other prizes. Games essentially involve luck, skill or a combination of both. There are games to play alone and with others.

Games to play alone tend to be games that rely on luck and skill. For example, Solitaire involves luck in the draw of the cards, but skill in knowing which cards to place where and when. Playing Solitaire with real cards also differs from playing on the computer. Other games that can be played alone include Suduko, crossword puzzle games, and many number games.

Games that are played with other people include many board games and action games. Games like driveway basketball, tag or Sardines are examples of the latter. The purpose of many of these games is to have an enjoyable time socializing around an activity.

At the Gifted Resource Center of New England we use many games to help gifted children learn specific skills such as taking turns, losing and winning, using strategies, thinking ahead, dealing with mistakes, waiting while others take their turns, not taking everyone’s turn for them, modulating levels of activity, and appropriately helping others. All board games can be used in these ways. Because the goal is social interaction and the learning of interpersonal skills, the Gifted Resource Center of New England tends not to use computer or video games though some can certainly be used this in this way.

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Some thoughts about computer and video games...

There are many wonderful computer and video games available that are fun to play, teach children friendly competition and develop skills in planning. They can be a positive force in a young person’s life. Some games even teach mathematical skills. Some of the newer game systems also encourage playing together. Still, few video games have the social involvement of card and board game. In the end, one is always playing against a machine. This may sharpen cognitive skills, but is less likely to embrace socialization. Think for example, of how many children act when they have to stop playing the game. The whining, pouting, begging, screaming do not make for a pretty picture. This is because the game is so intense. Focusing on the game becomes a form of hyperfocus, a mental state in which time and environment around a person disappears and only the game exists. Arousing from that state is jarring. Playing lots of video games and for long periods of time teaches hyperfocus on intense stimuli and decreases ability to rapidly shift attention. If there were a bear roaming around the environment in prehistoric times, the ability to shift attention allowed our ancestors to survive. The typical child of today with his focus on a game cannot even shift attention to note a yelling parent, never mind a menacing bear. Well there aren’t any bears, but less practice shifting attention means difficulty noting and adjusting to small nuances that change in the environment.

Playing games to excess is a problem. The way some games are set up encourages spending tremendous amounts of time solving problems to get to goals. When too much time is spent on electronic games, less time is spent on other things. Thus, two hours on a video game is two hours not spent reading, interacting directly with friends, doing homework, spending time with family members, etc. Since the child is unable to see the value of these alternate activities, the parent is the one who has to place limits on game playing while encouraging other activities.

Role playing games on the Internet are another issue. These are fun and teach some skills, and the young person feels he or she has developed relationships with other Internet players. These games can take a tremendous amount of time and the relationships are not real life interactions, not in the same way as if the young person were playing the same game with a group of peers at the library. The young person can be fooled into thinking that he or she has all these on-line friends, but meanwhile, there is no one to really talk to, no one who really knows who he or she is. Often the children most likely to spend time on these sites are lonely gifted boys with less developed social skills. Being with on-line friends in a role-playing game is a terrific boost to self-esteem, but it doesn’t substitute for real friendships. When a young person is spending time on-line with role-playing games, find or start a real life version of the game. Having a bunch of young people in the library or one’s living room playing Dungeons and Dragons or one of the other many role-playing games can help young people learn to enjoy one another’s company and encourage the making of real friends.

Some computer and video games encourage violence and negative behavior. While the young people playing them feel the games have no effect on them, research tells us differently. Research on video game playing does show that playing violent games reduces empathy in players and desensitizes them to the effects of violence. Also, once the player gets used to the thrill felt by the violent stimulation, he or she has a difficult time finding that thrill in real life. Other things pale beside the stimulation offered by the violent game. Then, the person becomes easily bored with lower level stimulation. Coupled with the overfocus inherent in video games, children can become “addicted” to playing them because otherwise they don’t feel very aroused or alive.

Thus there are several good reasons why parents should monitor and limit video and computer game playing: the development of hyperfocus and loss of ability to quickly shift attention, time lost to other activities; difficulty getting the young person to pursue real life friendships; potential loss of empathy and caring for others; and loss of the ability to find pleasure in lower level stimulation. Finally, if the children are off playing videogames by themselves, there is much less time spent doing family activities.

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