Screen Time

Are Car Racing Games Eroding My Child’s Brain?

A mother of a child with ADHD who is obsessed with car racing games wonders if they’re hurting his brain, or limiting his executive function skills.

Racing games like Mario Kart are actually one of the best game genres for teaching problem-solving skills, creative thinking, and fine-motor skills. But because they are so much fun, some kids want to play them for hours on end, diminishing the cognitive benefits they might otherwise derive from playing.

There are two main types of car-racing games:

  • Simulation games where the player is usually placed in the driver’s seat of an extremely realistic vehicle
  • Arcade racing games, where cartoon-type graphics are accompanied by easy game controls and unrealistic powers

Both types of car games can help kids become flexible in their thinking. Racing games require players to react appropriately to novel situations, make quick decisions, determine the best path of action to take, and learn to avoid obstacles.

Car-racing games also require working-memory skills. Most racing games contain multiple tracks that have obstacles and power-ups to collect along the way. Players need to use working memory to remember where they are on the track so they know when to speed up and when to use caution. To the degree that a child is able to memorize different aspects of the track, he will be able to navigate it more speedily and win the game.

Racing games also teach self-control. Even the best players in racing games tend to crash and burn. This can become very frustrating if you don’t learn to have fun when making mistakes. Playing well requires you to assess your abilities so you don’t go too fast on the track. This is the type of skill a child might use when learning to ride a bike or to conquer a more hilly or busy terrain.

Though they are generally wholesome and fun, racing games can be a problem if consumed in massive doses. If your child is doing little more than playing racing games, he will get a very limited benefit, as they present just a narrow set of cognitive challenges. I strongly encourage parents to have children play many different game genres. If your child likes racing games, he may be interested in action, adventure, or simulation games. Playing different genres of games would practice additional thinking skills and expand his horizons to other interests beyond cars and trucks.