Features, Science

How video games can help build a growth mindset

Video games have always had a bad reputation. In 1982, they were believed to be addictive and dangerous to young children, and in 1993, the rise in graphical violence spurred the Senate to pass the rating system well-known today. But in recent years, attitudes toward video games have become more accepting and one group seeks to utilize this paradigm shift to help improve human behavior.

The video gaming convention PAX East was held in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this past weekend, where the non-profit organization Game to Grow presented a panel on improving mental health through gaming. COURTESY OF KIKO

Game to Grow, a non-profit organization based out of Washington state, attended this year’s annual gaming convention PAX East to present a panel entitled, “The Player is Evolving! Using Games to Foster Growth Mindset.” The talk, which was held on Friday, was part of a series spanning all weekend, focusing on improving mental health through gaming.

Jared Kilmer, a member of Game to Grow and discussion moderator, introduced the concept of a growth mindset to the nearly 100 people in attendance.

“[A growth mindset] is the attitude that one’s skill can grow in response to increased effort and positive learning strategies,” Kilmer said during the panel.

Elizabeth Kilmer, also a member of Game to Grow and clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas, said it is important to have a growth mindset rather than its polar opposite fixed mindset.

“It’s a lot about having the belief that skill and ability is something that is flexible and changeable instead of static,” Kilmer said at the talk. “So like ‘I can get better at math’ instead of ‘I’m just good at math or I’m bad at math.’”

Aside from the Kilmers — a husband and wife duo — speakers at Friday’s panel included Adam Davis, executive director of Game to Grow, and Justin Swain, host of the @everyone podcast.

Behavioral responses to setbacks and an individual’s desired outcomes of a situation, Davis said, determine whether they lean toward a growth or fixed mindset.

“The mindset is most revealed when it comes to how we engage with the challenges in our lives,” Davis said during the panel. “When we see a setback and we say ‘I can overcome this, I can work hard’ versus ‘This is a static setback that I cannot respond to, this is just the way it is.’”

The panelists said video games can foster a very crucial element of a fixed mindset called grit, which Davis said he developed while playing “Dark Souls,” an action role-playing game that forces the user to try again and again.

“Grit is perseverance in the face of challenges and adversity, or passion and perseverance for your long-term goals,” Davis said in the panel. “Playing Dark Souls literally did give me the strength and resilience to push through a lot of challenges in my relationships, in my grad school and in starting a business.”

Attendee Allison Battles of Minneapolis, has followed Game to Grow and collaborated with them in the past. She said she was excited to hear such a positive and constructive message about gaming.

“I think one of the greatest things about gaming are the opportunities for growth” Battles said, “and emphasizing how games can build in growth mindsets and how important that is for our overall well being as human beings.”

Christine Emerick of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who attended the talk, said they felt the most significant takeaway was the message of perseverance.

“One of the biggest things that video games teaches you is perseverance,” Emerick said. “Continuing to try despite failing — so the growth mindset.”

A particular growth mindset tool that attendees can use during gaming, or outside of it, is called the OODA loop — observe, orient, decide and act — which describes the behaviors an individual should exercise in taxing situations. The concept was developed by the U.S. military, Davis said, for rapid response of servicemen.

Swain said OODA loops can be used in gaming to become better and refine analytical skills.

“Gunfights in video games tend to be like, ‘All right, I’m going to observe the other players, there could be a radar in your corner,’” Swain said in the panel. “These are all little, tiny micromanaging bits.”

Jared Kilmer ended the panel by recommending attendees consider what their current, in-the-moment experience means to them.

“Ask yourself, ‘What can I gain from this experience?’” Kilmer said. “It doesn’t really matter the context, but ask yourself that question as frequently as you can and you might be able to find you can extract a lot more growth from some of those frustrating moments than you might have initially realized.”

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