More Than Just a Game?

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12 June 2013 by Wanda Wyporska
In my work researching young people’s online behaviours, I often find myself sitting in small classrooms with groups of 10 to 12 children talking about all manner of things related to their online lives. While I have done a lot of research over the last year with older children around sexting, explicit content and the wider influences therein, more recently I have been spending time talking to KS2 and 3 pupils about gaming.

We know from our own work that gaming is the most popular reason that children of primary age go online, and while social networking takes over in secondary school, it still takes up a consider amount of online time, particularly for boys. We wanted to carry out research on what it means to be a “gamer” and move our understanding away from the often ill-informed media driven focus around addiction and whether violent content results in violent behaviours (where research is very much mixed in terms of findings).

The main write up for this work is due to be released in September 2013, but already there are a number of common and interesting themes emerging. While there isn’t space in this short article to reflect on all of these issues one that is a constant in all of the groups I have spoken to is the role of the parent.

I have lost count of the number of times I have spoken to KS2 children about their playing of 18 certificate games. Indeed, I was in a school today where 8 out of the 10 year 5 and 6 boys I was speaking to were avid players of Grand Theft Auto, a game where the central character embarks on a career in crime with violent liaisons with the public and police, as well as drug taking and “interaction” with prostitutes.

While the question should, quite rightly, be asked whether children of this age playing this sort of game is damaging in a real sense, it was interesting to note that the boys today thought this game was inappropriate for children their age and while they were unaffected by the content other children would be!

All of the children I have spoken to about these sorts of games say their parents buy them for them. Frequently the parents then show no further interest in what the content of the game is (although this is not always case) and games are played in the child’s bedroom, sometimes for many hours, without parental intervention. I have spoken to year 9 boys who stayed up for 40 hours on the weekend after Black Ops 2 came out and others who will play for many hours without a break, food or a drink.

We might argue that it is down to informed parental choice to decide whether a game is appropriate for a child, and I would not disagree with this – the certifications are there for information. However, in a lot of the cases I have seen, informed judgment are not being made, just a reliance on the digital babysitter.

From the educational perspective, this can be a serious challenge. In a time when more and more pressure seems to be placed upon the education professional to be the online monitor as well the teacher, this research shows that no matter what the teacher does in terms of education, if children are turning up after hardly any sleep, they are hardly ready to learn.

That is not to say that gaming, of itself, if bad. The children I have been speaking to are bright, articulate and enthusiastic about their gaming lives. But in a lot of cases they are being left to their own devices to manage their time, their conduct, and what they see. Which has to be a concern for all of us.

Guest blog by Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in Information Technology at Plymouth University

Andy Phippen is a Professor of Social Responsibility in Information Technology at Plymouth University. He has researched young people and online behaviours for around 10 years and works from the grass roots in schools to informing government policy (when they will listen).

His work has covered areas such as school policy and practice, approaches to online safer education, cyberbullying, sexting, explicit content and gaming. He is a trustee of the South West Grid for Learning and a frequent media commentator on young people and internet behaviours.

He can be reached at

Tagged with: 
Pupil welfare


Gaming seems to come up a lot when I'm on the road talking to students. I've certainly had to start learning a lot more about the online gaming world not just for secondary students, but primary as well. It's an interesting and sometimes frightening world we are living in. I look forward to hearing more on the topic!