Calling the Bluff on “Active” Video Games

Brad M. Griffin | Mar 7, 2012

Youve heard the rhetoric: video games based on getting kids engaged in physical activity are the answer to the couch-potato gamer problem. Lets get kids moving. Previous lab-based research gave this hope some credence. The reasoning seems legitimate: a game based on dancing or throwing or batting would almost have to mean increase in physical activity, right?

Unfortunately, a recent study of 9-12 year-olds found different results. Zero change, actually. Published recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this study uncovered that simply giving an active game to a kid doesnt necessarily increase his or her physical activity a single bit.

What gives? For one thing, in lab experiments kids are given instructions. They have to play the games, and naturally this makes them active. But this study wanted to approximate real life. When a video game enters the home via a parent or other source, there are seldom instructions for how long and how often games should be played. And as it turns out, in real life (over the course of the 12-week experiment) the active games dont seem to actually increase activity.

There are multiple connections to youth ministry here.

1. Clearly active video games arent the answer to the problem of kids who get sucked into inactive lifestyles. Despite all the marketing, games still dont replace real, live play.

2. For a lot of our cultural fixes to the lifestyle problems weve created, the outcomes arent as obvious as they seem.

3. Discipleship is a lot like this. We tend to think we can lob information, resources, or programs at kids and expect discipleship to just happen. We even make ourselves believe that something is happening because weve given students these tools. But its possible we arent getting the results we hope for. Especially when we think we can short-circuit the slow work of discipleship.

4. Narratives matter. Pediatric researcher Tom Baranowski speculated in response to this study, “The active video games are very different than other video games in that there’s no story. We think if we could learn to wrap a story around an active video game, we would get more kids active as they try to see how the story plays out.” We can take that all kinds of places in youth ministry application.

What do you see here?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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