Can Video Games Make Kids More Creative?

Creativity is born of chaos. Could online gaming be the coffee house of our children's generation?
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Is your child glued to that videogame controller again? Take a deep breath. Researchers at Michigan State University want you to know that there's a link between video game use and creativity in children.

Specifically, a study of nearly 491 12-year-olds, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that "the more kids played video games, the more creative they were in tasks such as drawing pictures and writing stories."

So are the games the cause of said creativity? The data do not tell us that. What they show is a correlation. It could be that hours spent on Worlds of Warcraft or Call of Duty stimulates neurons in such a way that the imaginative juices start flowing. But just as likely (perhaps more so) is that creative kids are attracted to these games in the first place.

What I read here, though, is the reality-check of a message that parents need not panic just because our children inhabit worlds that are alien to us. We talked about this before on Parentlode, in a post titled "Kids Spend More Time With Screens Than Books."

In that post I wrote:

...know that you are not the first generation of parents to wonder what new fangled things are doing to their children. When the ball point pen replaced the inkwell, there were some who lamented the end of penmanship and discipline. The telephone would clang through family dinnertime! The calculator would ruin their math skills!

In the history of humankind, however, there is no technology invented that has not been used. (Let's leave the defense industry out of this.) So the goal can't be to condemn screens, but rather to learn how best to use them. After all, there can be books on those screens. There is a measurable gain in eye and hand coordination. And there is legitimate value in a screen's ability to quiet and entertain a child in places -- airplanes, long car rides -- where the alternative used to be fidgeting to screaming.

Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, has been arguing for several years now, that video games boost brain power. He has not written as directly about a link between video games and creativity, but in his well-circulated talk at TED last year he talked about where creative ideas come from, and concluded that they were born out of chaos, when the brain was busy doing something else entirely.

"A new idea is a new collection of neurons firing in sequence like never before," he says. The queston is "how do you get your brain into places where these neurons are going to fire?"

He cites the first wave of coffeehouses in 17th century England as the idea breeding ground for creativity. Perhaps online gaming is the modern equivalent.

Does this make you feel any better about your child's time spent with video games? Or have you just had the creative thought of your own that perhaps these children would be even MORE creative if not for the time spent with a controller and headset?

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