June 2, 2005 — -- When many adults think of video games, they envision bombs, bangs and blood. As a result, many parents try to restrict their children's gaming time. But according to new research, they might be missing some redeeming qualities.
"All these things that that have long been assumed to be rotting our brains, there might be this hidden benefit," said social critic Steven Johnson, author of the controversial new book, "Everything Bad Is Good for You."
Americans bought about 248 million games last year, enough for two in every household, according to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Johnson argues that video games -- violent or not -- are making children smarter.
"You have to manage multiple objectives at the same time," he said. "You have to manage all these different resources, and you have to make decisions every second of the game."
Video games typically require the player to complete a number of specific tasks to win.
"Well we have to get the Jeep, we have to ride up a hill, kill the snipers, drive past the mountainside, go into another giant palace and activate the remote," said one 10-year-old interviewed by ABC News while playing the Halo 2 video game, designed for the Microsoft Xbox gaming system.
Children who play such video games exhibit what experts call "fluid intelligence," or problem solving.
"They have to discover the rules of the game and how to think strategically," said James Paul Gee, a University of Wisconsin-Madison curriculum and instruction professor. "Like any problem solving that is good for your head, it makes you smarter."
Intelligence test scores in the United States are rising faster than ever, experts say. One possible reason: Studies show video games make people more perceptive, training their brains to analyze things faster.
In a recent study by the University of Rochester, participants were asked to count the number of squares which were flashed on a screen for a 20th of a second. Gamers picked the right number 13 percent more often than non-gamers.
In the modern world of fast decision-making, e-mail and e-trade, games might be helping develop the kinds of skills kids need to succeed.
"They're out learning how to think in ways that will be absolutely useful to them when they go out in the world and do the same kind of thinking in an office," Johnson said.
Johnson says he would rather see kids playing non-violent games: and doesn't want his own young children playing violent ones. But even in the worst cases, he wants parents to recognize the potential benefits.
ABC News' John Berman filed this report for "World News Tonight."