Q: My 11-year-old son is obsessed with Formula 1 driving video games. When he wins a race, he wins
“money” that can be used to buy more expensive and faster cars to race with next time. It doesn't seem like it's the escape of the driving game that is the impetus for this—he is interested in all things involved in car racing. Is this okay? What might be the potential dangers be?
-Driven to Distraction in
A: Dear Driven,
It is not uncommon for tweens of your son’s age to engage in an area of interest with such intensity (whether it's skateboarding, science fiction, hip hop music, or cars), and it sounds like video games are just another environment where he’s learning about this particular interest. Spending some of his down time playing these games isn’t a problem as long as he accomplishes the important tasks of life, like homework, school, time with family, eating good meals, and getting adequate sleep.
In fact, by playing well-designed racing games, he is likely learning a good deal about what makes a car move more quickly—from physics to aerodynamics to internal combustion engines. Such a game will give a relatively accurate idea of how quickly he can go around turns, how far the car will fly after hitting a bump, etc.
There are some concerns about how regularly playing these games could affect a player’s real-life road behaviors, however. In some research studies, those who played racing video games regularly—or even as part of an experiment—drove faster and more recklessly in real life than those who did not. One study found evidence that this may occur because players then perceive themselves as reckless drivers.
These games simply can’t
duplicate the risks of real-life driving. In addition to not being able to practice driving skills in real life yet, your son's 11-year-old brain has not yet developed the ability to really think into the future and grasp the concept of potential consequences. You can help make video game racing
a more healthy experience for him by offering to play with him or to watch him play. Then you can be there to remind him that, while crashing and rolling a virtual car has few consequences, crashing and rolling an actual car is another thing entirely.
PS – From the results of this forthcoming paper, another thing to watch out for is your wallet — researchers found that driving a virtual car increased how much players liked that brand of car in the real world!
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,