The Youth Sports Trust, a group the does advocacy for physical education and physical well-being, has compiled a report on the status of today’s youth. The report is pretty well done, with a lot of insights about how technology is changing the way kids socialize, view physical activity, and interact with technology in physical activity, but there’s one piece of data that is grabbing more headlines than others. The report suggests that 23% of kids believe that playing video games is a form of physical activity.
Should we panic and throw out all video game consoles and computers for fear that our kids will inevitably become blobs? Probably not. Let’s consider what this data is actually suggesting, whether it’s an accurate claim, and how they might have come to this conclusion
23% of kids believe video games can be a form of physical activity. This would be a bigger issue if this was 1995, but kids today have a much wider experience when it comes to playing their games. If you’re in this age range of 5-16, you’re household more than likely has a console that has some sort of motion control component to it. The Wii itself was a cultural phenomenon, so it’s unlikely that kids today haven’t seen or played a game that requires physical motion. With this in mind, it’s not insane to see where kids are making this claim from; some games require physical motion, they must be a form physical activity.
Whether using the Kinect or Wii can be considered a “form of physical activity” is a subject up for debate for adults, but they undeniably require physical activity. Kids aren’t going to be able to define the difference between an activity specifically meant for physical fitness and an activity that simply requires physical activity; they’re kids, let’s not be silly.
Another consideration is that the poll was conducted using a likert scale, meaning they give the respondents the options between “agree, strongly agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree”. These types of polls are useful, but can lead to polling errors and over simplification of data.
Let’s think about it. If you’re a 7 year old child and you’re ask if you think games are a physical activity you’re going to draw on your knowledge of video games. You’re most likely thinking some games have physical activity involved (Wii Sports, Star Wars Kinect, etc), but the majority do not (Minecraft, Skylanders, etc). With a Likert scale, “Agree” and “Disagree” most closely relate to “Some, but not all”, but kids with some knowledge of physically active video games will probably tend on the side of agree, even if they only marginally agree with the statement. Thus we have a problem: likert scales lump people who only marginally agree in with people who agree to a greater extent, which wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t making bold statements based on these scales. It’s a minor nuisance in data collecting, but important nonetheless.
Also, some kids just like to pick the silliest options.
So maybe we shouldn’t be flabbergasted that video games are being considered physical activity; maybe they’re just evolving to become one. With VR on the way, it’s certainly looking that physical activity and gaming are tied together.
TLDR: GET OFF THESE KIDS’ BACKS.
It’s unfortunate that this singular question is the one sparking headlines and debate, because the report itself has a lot of interesting insights that are being overlooked as a result. With more and more public funding being cut to programs that support physical fitness and with the rise of technology being more closely tied to social and physical development, it’s important for us to understand and research how we can adapt to these new trends.