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Gaming FTW: the positives of online gaming

Online gaming can get a bad rap. In households up and down the country, the words, “five more minutes” can cause tempers to fray. 

Some parents worry that hours spent online gaming is nothing but wasted time – and can lead to excessive screen time or even gaming ‘addiction’.   

However, it’s important to recognise that gaming can be an important activity for children – and can offer many positives.

As Dr Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, explained in a guest blog for Parent Zone, “evidence suggests that in the right context, video games can have positive health and educational benefits for children.”

New skills

Most games are not created for educational purposes – but it’s important to recognise the learning that can take place in games not specifically designed for that purpose. 

Gaming can help young people develop a wealth of skills. Multiplayer games such as Fortnite and League of Legends help players develop strategy, teamwork and decision-making skills.

‘Sandbox’ games like the hugely popular Minecraft have no fixed goal or objective. Users can explore and build their own worlds using blocks and other resources they discover in the game – with Minecraft often described as “virtual Lego”. This encourages creativity, imagination and storytelling. 

With this in mind, gaming can have as much value as learning, social and creative online time – as long as it is well-managed and children and families are aware of the risks (more below).

The importance of play

According to Ofcom, gaming is a “fundamental form of entertainment for children”, enjoyed by 70 per cent of five to 15-year-olds and 86 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds. Gaming is, after all, about playing: time where children can relax and enjoy themselves with friends or like minded peers.

The addition of in-game chat functions have helped games evolve into social spaces where players can connect and play with friends. More than half of children aged five to 15 most commonly play games in this way. Indeed, for boys in particular, games can be their equivalent of social media. 

Play is critical to development, helping children understand the world around them, and the right to play is recognised by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Online “play” is no exception – and should be respected as such. 

Career prospects

Young gamers could be able to put the skills they’re developing into very good use when it comes to their future careers. The UK gaming industry is the largest in Europe, employing more than 50,000 people in roles from development to marketing and legal.

On a global level, the UK sector is well-respected, with a reputation for attracting and producing world-class talent. With gaming growing in popularity and sectors like eSports and Virtual Reality becoming more mainstream, the industry’s development shows no sign of slowing down. 

Even if they don’t go into game development itself, many of the skills taught on specialist, industry-approved courses are transferable and in high demand across the creative sector, in areas such as animation and visual effects (VFX).

Positive experiences

Research has shown that the amount of time children spend in front of a screen is less important than what they spend that time doing – and that games can offer positive experiences for young players. While it’s important to set clear boundaries about game play, and ensure games are age-appropriate, there’s no need to demonise gaming as a waste of time. It could be the pastime that becomes their career – and even if it doesn’t, we all need to let off steam sometimes.

Be aware of the risks

While there are many benefits of online gaming, you should always keep in mind the risks, from privacy and inappropriate content, to financial – as well as finding a healthy balance. Always take time to talk to your child about the games they play and with who – and stay part of their gaming world.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind to help your child game more safely.

  1. Know the rating – Games have age-ratings for a reason, so ensure your child is playing those that are age-appropriate. You may be able to set parental controls on their device so that they aren’t able to access or download games they are too young for. 

  2. Talk about finance – As our research has shown, gaming mechanisms like loot boxes can bear worrying resemblance to compulsive techniques used in the gambling industry. Talk to your child about managing pressure to make in-game purchases, and if you save card details to a device, make sure it is PIN protected and your child cannot spend without your knowledge.

  3. Privacy settings – While games are great for chatting to friends, be aware that they might not be the only people your child is chatting to. Explore the privacy settings available to keep chat to those you are both happy with.

  4. Reporting and blocking – Most games will offer in-game feedback for users to report inappropriate behaviour. Make sure your child is aware of how to report and block users and encourage them to talk to you if they encounter anything upsetting. You can also seek advice and make a report to CEOP through their online safety centre.

  5. Set limits and boundaries – Setting clear boundaries, giving time warnings and making sure your child is aware of your expectations for their behaviour are all ways to support them to make the most of gaming, within a structured and supportive environment.