Do Online Games and Video Games Promote Social Emotional Learning?


Parents and educators tend to discourage teens from playing online games or video games, thinking that the games encourage isolation and a degradation of interpersonal skills.

Surprisingly, however, some educators believe that video games might actually help students develop crucial skills that improve their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal relationships. According to Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D., playing online games or video games can promote each of the 5 core competencies of social emotional learning:

  1. Self-awareness – When progressing through the levels of a game, individuals receive constant feedback about their performance and become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Players also have the opportunity to adopt “virtual identities” and encounter novel experiences. Observing their own choices and behaviors in these virtual situations offers players a better understanding of themselves.
  2. Self-management – In order to reach goals, win contests, and claim achievements, players must overcome feelings of frustration or failure and instead develop patience and perseverance.

    Another reason why games promote emotional management is that playing games allows people to abandon their negative moods (e.g. boredom, stress, loneliness, frustration, or anxiousness) and instead take on positive emotional states that game-playing tends to stimulate (e.g. curiosity, excitement, awe, wonder, relief, pride, or connection to other players).

    Furthermore, gesture-based games (played using devices such as the Kinect and Nintendo Wii) can help regulate emotions through the physical-feedback effect.

  3. Social Awareness – Games that are played in online communities promote social awareness because they encourage players to engage in cooperative play, trading, negotiation, and sometimes even compassion or altruism.
  4. Relationship Skills – When working in teams, game-players develop negotiation skills and conflict-resolution skills. Even when playing one-player games, individuals can develop relationship skills by sharing tips with their classmates or other players around the world.
  5. Responsible decision-making – Many games require players to practice responsible decision-making as they weigh in factors related to ethics, safety, social norms, respect for others. Players learn to recognize the consequences of their choices and develop skills in problem-solving, recognizing patterns, and strategizing.

So, what’s the final verdict? Do video games promote or impede the development of social emotional skills? Are games a dangerous path to isolation, or should they be an integral part of any educational program’s curriculum?

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