Naïve parents who believe that their children's video game addiction enhances problem solving abilities and hand-eye co-ordination may not be as out to lunch as previously thought.
While they may never be called upon to save a princess from a big turtle, or race stock cars professionally, there is a lot of learning going on. Some of it is completely accidental, while other educational benefits are quite deliberate.
My first brush with learning software was a typing tutor that worked a little like Space InvadersTM. The game started out slow, asking you to type whatever appeared in the top window on your keyboard. If you hit the correct key, your ship would fire and destroy an alien. If you missed the key, the aliens would get a little closer. If you typed fast enough and without making mistakes, you could destroy all the invaders and save the world.
By gradually increasing the speed and complexity of the cued text, I got faster and faster until I was typing about 30 words a minute.
The ability to type quickly and accurately has helped me in so many ways, from last-minute school projects to this career as a so-called professional writer.
Although it's quite possible I would have learned to type on my own further on down the road, I feel I can safely say that I owe at least part of my job skills to a video game.
Scary, but true.
War games and trivia games have helped me with history and geography. Strategy games have helped me with my problem-solving abilities and logic. Sports games have helped me to understand sports, learn the names of players, and win and lose graciously - at least, I'm working on winning and losing graciously. I learned more about civics from Sims games than any other source. I know how to fly a plane, in principle anyway, from a flight simulator.
While most games offer little more than an entertaining distraction and are about as mentally rewarding as a night watching prime time television, there are a lot of diamonds in the rough.
Kids play education video games in schools these days, and parents can hold their heads high when they're bringing home an educational game.
Even the U.S. military has recognized the value of gaming in recruiting.
Watching American television, you've probably seen one of the U.S. Army's "Army of One" campaigns. Instead of recruiting mindless bullet-biters who will follow orders unquestioningly, they are making a distinction - today's military requires individuals who can think logically and creatively in the field, and who have the ability to use the technology of the day.