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Book Review: The Gamer Generation – The Benefits of Video Gaming

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I discovered I had a strong predilection to video games not long after I married my husband 13 years ago. He thought he'd married an intelligent woman with a strong work ethic that bordered on workaholism. But both he and I were surprised to find how much I enjoyed chasing monsters with Yoshi and stacking blocks with Tetris. As it turns out, that penchant for gaming has served me well over the years and has expanded to include my 8-year-old son and passions for other hobbies like RVing, wakeboarding, fishing, dirtbiking, family history, and scrapbooking. I am what Jennifer Comet Wagner, in her new book The Gamer Generation: Reaping the Benefits of Video Games, might call a new breed of gamer.

The book, released last month in ebook format for the Kindle, is a compendium of research about the benefits of gaming. It seeks to, first, refute the stereotypes of gamers as anti-social teenage couch potatoes, and second, list the benefits of video games in educational, medical, and business settings. Wagner defines gaming as an activity often played on internet-capable consoles or in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). As it exists today,gaming can be a very social activity and, when exercise-type games are played, a heart-pumping one as well. Indeed, Wagner cites sources saying that the average gamer an adult, not a teen, and the most popular games played now are online social games, designed to focus on success through teamwork.

Wagner explores many gaming boons in her book, listing multiple games that have been developed successfully for patients with vision problems, Parkinson's Disease, and stroke, for instance. She discusses how the new Sesame Street game for the Xbox 360 Kinect, which I reviewed recently, has proven to be a "game-changer," bringing the concept of virtual teamwork to an even broader, younger audience. She also cites the introduction of a game called Playing History: The Plague, which is being used in 500 schools nationwide to teach history in a fun and interactive way.

Were one to take full stock in the hundreds of sources cited and games listed in The Gamer Generation, one might think that gaming is a kind of panacea—something that could change the world. This is not an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of video games, besides the chapter devoted to debunking myths about violent video games. I am somewhat of a pessimist, or a moderate, in terms of the role I see video games playing in our society as a whole and in our families, and I think other parents we've talked to in our Twitter gno parties would agree. Video games are most enjoyable, most useful when played in moderation, by either adult or child, when played as a family, and when played appropriately for one's age or circumstance (i.e., not played "over one's head"). I think that their integration into mainstream American functioning will only happen as more games are made and played with those parameters in mind.

Altogether, I very much enjoyed reading Wagner's treatise on the benefits of gaming, because it confirmed and expanded upon many things I already knew from experience, and provided me with a new list of good games to check out. If I had the opportunity to request a sequel, I would request a deeper exploration (with few typographical errors and more scientific studies) of key points Wagner mentions only briefly at the end her book: moderation and age-appropriateness. These are really crucial points in successful gaming, individually, as a family, and as a society.

Do you have video games in your home? How do you make it a positive experience?

You can read more about Jennifer Comet Wagner and her book at JenniferCometWagner.com.

Feature picture courtesy of Flickr.

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