No replacements!

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One of the fondest memories of school for most of us is the PT period, the one hour that we got to run around, scream and enjoy. The squeals of joy and the sound of laughter that can be heard as we pass by a playground don’t fail to bring a tiny smile on our face. But in today’s world, these moments of joy have vanished, or more precisely, have been replaced by a new definition of joy.

Right from the time they are toddlers, children these days are exposed to a variety of online games and video games. Their meals, their bath time and even their sleep is completely dependent on these electronic devices and games. They literally grow up with devices like the IPad and mobile phone and start associating “playing” with “online games”.

Outdoor games and playing are nature’s way of developing a child’s brain. Jumping on the ground or climbing up trees generate new neurons in our brain, which cannot be done by sitting on a sofa and tapping on the mobile screen or moving a joystick. In his recent book, “Man (Dis) connected,” Professor Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University claims that computer games are leaving children bored in school and are making them opt out of society. The rise of digital technology in children’s lives has been associated with higher rates of loneliness and obesity. Research has also shown that children are becoming weaker, less muscular and are unable to do basic physical tasks like hanging from bars.

Video games are rumoured to teach kids social skills and how to behave on the field while playing a physical sport. But I don’t see how this can happen as a combination of both physical and emotional skills are required while playing any sport. Many a time, the complexity of a sport presents itself to the child only on the field and a child who has not been exposed to this kind of environment doesn’t know how to deal with it. The child is overwhelmed and most often, just turns back to the familiar comfort of his video games.

Absence of physical games from a child’s life have many other adverse effects in the growth and development of the child. The child distances himself from social interactions, by which I mean interactions with actual people and not people behind a screen. When we sign up for a game, we log in and then play. We rarely even know who we are playing with, and even if it is a team game, we don’t know the names of our teammates. All we know is what we see on the screen, a face hidden behind a username, which most of the time is not the actual name of the person. On the other hand, when we are on the field, we make an attempt to get to know our surroundings and the people we are playing with. On the internet, everyone is interested just in themselves and plays very selfishly. This constant online gaming also gives ways to other vices like addiction. Depending on your level of involvement in the game, you either start overindulging in it or start getting addicted to it, neither of which are particularly good for the mind.

For the complete development of any individual, both physical and emotional growth is essential. Playing physical games brings positivity and discipline in one’s life. It also builds self-esteem of the child and teaches him values like mutual respect and understanding. It induces calmness and teaches the brain to look for different strategies to deal with a problem without getting too hyper. While playing on the internet, whenever the player loses a round, he gets a chance or two more. Once he has run out of ‘lifes’, he just shuts down the system in frustration and goes away, making no efforts to learn where he went wrong and how he can improve himself to perform better the next time. On the other hand, when he is on the field, his fellow players give him a pat on the back and those few words of encouragement and that physical touch go a long way in boosting his confidence. He learns from the people around him and comes back with renewed energy and confidence the next time he has to play.

I don’t say that online games should completely be avoided. In today’s technologically advancing world, keeping pace with these developments is essential. Playing on the phone when you are stuck in traffic is fine, but that doesn’t mean it should become a habit. One should not get so glued to these games that they don’t make an effort to go out and indulge in physical games even when they have a chance to do it. Hence I would like to conclude by saying that if played in controlled amounts, online games can also serve as good sources of entertainment but in no ways can replace physical games and its advantages.

-Sneha Ganesh