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Want a smart kid? Let them play (video games).

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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

(Read caption) Video games help players develop spacial relation skills and reaction time, according to a new study. Here, Sacramento Police Officer Vance Chandler trains on a video game developed by the US Army in Sacramento, Calif., Nov. 20.

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To much of the media much of the time, video games are a convenient whipping boy for all of society's problems: they distract the youth from social interaction and school, they encourage violence, they reward the meaningless wasting of time. It has always been clear that this view is (at best) half right, and that there's more going on in the world of video games than that, and a paper entitled "The Benefits of Playing Video Games" (from the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands) does a great job of exploring the sunny side of the industry.

Overlooked in much of the popular obsession with the harm caused by video games are two really important points: First of all, games have changed immeasurably over the past decade, becoming far more complex and social.

Secondly: all video games are not alike. More accurately, they vary wildly in terms of tone, scope, objectives, and gameplay style – The Sims franchise is nothing like Civilization which is nothing like Call of Duty which is nothing like Minecraft. "The Benefits of Playing Video Games" likens making a broad assertion about all games to making a broad assertion about the health value of food in general – you really need to get more specific.

And like food, video games are no luxury – they're essentially omnipresent, with 97% of children and adolescents playing at least an hour of video games a day, and the industry earning more than double in 2010 ($25 billion) what Hollywood's box office sales were in the same year ($10.8 billion.)


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