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A useful waste of time?

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LEISURE ACTIVITY? Or a learning tool too?
LEISURE ACTIVITY? Or a learning tool too?

Say "video games" in anygroup and be ready to inviteviolent reactions. Parentsand spouses attack,gamers defend. Parents worryabout gaming kids' schoolwork,lack of exercise and death ofcommunication kills. They fearchildren will forget (did theylearn?) social skills, along withtheir share of household chores.Psychologists say catch-and-killvideo games foster aggressivebehaviour - game environmentshook kids with weaponsmeant for killing, stabbing andshooting. Hey, you can't win ifyou're not more aggressive,more violent, than the enemy!In first-person games, kids assumecharacters that are farfrom being role models.

A lot of games are gender-biasedshowing women as weakand helpless. An unsurprisinglypopular game expects players tomanage a drug cartel. The settingand characters look and feelso real it's difficult to dismissthem as fantasy. It's a lost battlefor parents really, where canyou find blood-and-bomb-freeentertainment for a teen, anyway?They shrug and restrictplaytime.

Give it a thoughtNow there's a twist to thisstory. New research suggeststhe games may have hiddenbenefits. Games help developchildren's brains. Violent orsoft, they make kids smarter,help develop better hand-eyecoordination.

Give it a thought. Better still,take a shot at playing. Grab ajoystick and check out Halo 2,designed for Xbox. In this game,you drive vehicles, battle enemies,fight a civil war, travel tospace stations and activaterings. You multi-task, sourcehelp from several quarters andmake multiple decisions, mostlysplit-second. Ergo: games trainminds to analyse data and makestrategic choices, quickly. In aworld of high-speed e-trade,problem-solving skills win CEOsalaries.

Gamers can justify long hoursspent "outsmarting enemy",with one more argument.Games teach life skills. WhenPaxton Galvanek, who savedtwo car smash victims withmedical expertise was askedwhere he learnt rescue procedures,said, "Playing AmericanArmy". Players of this game getmedical training (virtually)that real soldiers receive. Ontwo occasions, these "combatmedics" put the training togood use. They knew how toevaluate injury, control bleeding,recognise and treat shock,and give timely aid.

It's possible future surgeonswill enter op theatres with finemotor skills acquired by playingthe Nintendo Wii (MarbleMania). "Wiihabilitation", usesWii as rehab therapy for patientsrecovering from strokes,surgery and injuries. "While Iwas abroad I watched somethingsimilar used in rehab," saidDr. Sunder of Prem RehabilitationCentre. "Administeredby experts, video games canimprove motor and cognitiveskills." Which would a kid prefer?PT or a Wii T?

"Games are good stress-bustersapart from being good entertainment,"said Rohit Raja, ahigh school gamer. "Playingvideo games on the computerhelps me cool off after a longday in school." He admits theycan be addictive, may spoil hisconcentration while preparingfor exams (is dad listening?),but "with a little parental control,video games can have apositive effect on children."Parents aren't convinced."Today's youngsters spendmost of their spare time watchingTV, playing games on computeror playing video games,"complained K.N. Raja, Rohit'sdad. "Outdoor activity and outdoorgames have taken a backseatwith boys and have becomenil for girls. While TV and computerstie them down at home,game gadgets keep them glued toa chair even outside and shouldbe totally discouraged."

"Defining video games as beneficialor harmful," said KrishRaghav, college student and ardentgamer, "is trying to find ajustification for a "time-killer".Video games should be seen ascultural objects, like movies orbooks. Then the space for discussingthem becomes moreinteresting."

But Rohit, engineering studentAshwath and scores of their gamingfriends do have a point. Onestudy proves that gaming helpsin pain management, as in "weforget the pain when we're busyin the gaming arena." It mighthelp kids in chemotherapy andphysiotherapy. Games could be asafety valve for frustration andanger. For over-worked moms,games offer excellent day care."It's safer letting them play witha console than out in the streetwhen I can't supervise," said one.The debate isn't likely to disappear.

Will schools make Doom 40(or Mahabharatha 30) part of thecurriculum in future? Will videogames be recognised as marvelsthat make kids think sharp? Willthey be hailed as means to relaxand train? Be a leisure activityand a learning tool? Replace yogaas stress relievers 101?Try branding them as "a veryuseful waste of time".

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