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.
Part of this recruitment drive is an incredible game called America's Amy Operations.
Incredibly realistic, and completely free, this game includes basic training, weapon's training, and a number of missions to get the gist of what's involved. Afterwards you can go online and play real-time games with up to 40 others who have downloaded the software. Teamwork and strategies are crucial to winning the various missions.
The graphics are excellent, and the playability is good - it would be better if you could get shot several times and still survive, as in other games.
The game is also light in propaganda, although the focus is obviously to convince people to enlist.
The advantages for the Army are obvious. The people they recruit through the game have to meet physical and mental requirements that are in place, but as a bonus they have also proven that they have elementary computer skills and understand some of the strategies of war.
Most importantly, they have shown an interest in the Army - not the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, or the Coast Guard. It can get pretty competitive between the services when it comes to recruiting talent.
One feature on the game site even boasted that a patch for the game has "more features than the Naval Academy football team has turnovers."
The SuperKids Educational Software Review appraises and rates all of the scholastic educational software available for kids in Kindergarten through high school. Most of the software that has been reviewed is free, and SuperKids even offers a few of its own programs.
In addition, the majority of the educational software is in the form of games, tricking kids into learning while they play.
The Educatoinal Software Cooperative is a non-profit corporation that brings together developers, publishers, distributors and users of educational software. They also archive all of the freeware educational games and programs that have been made available by Cooperative members.
Categories include art, astronomy, books/literature/classroom tools, computing skills, educational games, English skills, geography, history, languages, life skills, math, music, nature/animals, pre-school, programming, reading, reference/research, religion, social sciences, study aids, tests, typing/keyboarding, vocabulary/spelling, writing/creativity, and others.
Some of the programs are for teachers, and wouldn't have a lot of interest to students.
This site includes more than educational software, but it is more focused than other sites in the way that it organizes its products.