How online, video games boost youth learning, creativity

Recently, a leading telco put out an infographic describing how online payments are growing ‘despite the slowdown in gaming.’ Although the message was probably well-intentioned, it underpinned a common problem where even tech industry leaders mistakenly equate gaming with betting.

First, it is important to understand that video and mobile games are similar to any other kind of game. They engage, educate and entertain with many having learning as well as play objectives. To be sure, too much of even a good thing can become detrimental if done to an extreme. But these few cases of misuse obscure the fact that research supports the many benefits of gaming.

Like many other sports, games can be an excellent way for youth to acquire character, discipline, tenacity and social skills. They can also develop a sense of competence and accomplishment through competition. For instance, a recent study “Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development” out of Harvard Medical School interviewed over 1,000 children. The students who played video games displayed advanced social skills, developed leadership traits, engaged in exercise and had an outlet for healthy competition. Games also sparked creativity and conveyed concepts in culture and history while helping families bond by playing together.

Online games, in particular, provide international exposure. Kids and adults alike can create creative and competitive communities across borders, while getting to know each other. In this way, the video gaming world is no different from the ‘pen pals’ of the old days.

Creating our own games for local use and export is one more way in which we can captivate youth. Creating a good game requires both artistic and tech capability. Unlike the outdated paradigm where artists and scientists were considered completely different, today, science shows that Stem (science, technology, engineering and math) spark cognitive development when combined with art, fueling the new STEAM movement. It is this same combination of design and technology that drove the success of the $US1.5 billion movie Black Panther which set a milestone in computer-generated imagery to tell a uniquely African story. Gamification is also transforming traditional areas like health, education and finance helping drive engagement with beneficial content.

The commercial opportunity is also huge. In fact, according to Microsoft, there are more than two billion gamers around the world. This number includes everyone from those playing free games on their phone to those using sophisticated equipment and software. Recently Apple launched Arcade a gaming subscription service hot on the heels of Stadia from Google. Other services like Twitch offer live broadcasts of gamers around the world competing in tournaments just like any other sports. The gaming market is growing fast - by 2022, experts forecast the gaming industry will produce US$196 billion in revenue. E-sports revenue alone is expected to surpass US$1billion for the first time in 2019.

As Kenya grapples with youth unemployment, encouraging games can channel adolescent talent and energy, providing a constructive and creative outlet. We need to move African gamers from just being consumers to creators exporting and publishing games for profit. Equating online gaming with betting is like suggesting we ought to stop physical youth sports because a small portion of adults gamble on matches. It is important to distinguish online games, that are based on skill, from betting, which is based on chance and comes with financial loses.