The Byron Review, a couple of months back, outlined that children were being exposed to material that was inappropriate for them and that there were concerns with the rating system for games. The report didn’t only cover videogames, but also what youngsters were exposed to on the internet and how vulnerable they were in a digital and virtual world.

The aftermath of the report confused an already confusing topic, with blame being passed from retailers, to parents to websites, with no conclusive end other than children were being exposed to inappropriate material.

We at IncGamers read through the report, did our relevant news stories, but decided that we should speak to an expert asking how exactly videogames specifically change a childs psychological development.

Professor Karen J Pine, PhD CSci, is a research leader at the University of Hertfordshire, and we put some questions to her about videogames specifically.
Do you think that video games really do have as much influence on children as the media is making out?

Anything that children are exposed to for lengthy periods will have an influence on them and video games are no exception.

What evidence, if any, is there to suggest that games are to blame?

The evidence is always controversial because it’s difficult to prove outright cause and effect. Violent crime, however, is likely to have a number of influencing factors. Children watch more television, for example, and there is more pre-watershed violence. Video games are just part of a myriad of experiences and influences that make up the world of the child.

Games are hailed for raising observational skills and reaction times. Is this fair to say?

Games can be designed in a way that raised these skills. Many however are not designed with this is mind and are aimed purely at entertainment. So any benefits are by-products and may be accompanied by negative effects too.

If so, does this mean that video games actually help with child development?As I said, they could help if they targeted particular abilities.

Not all video games are violent, and those that are, are classified with ratings. Surely all children that play video games don’t just play violent ones?

Children play a range of games, not all of them are violent.
Positively, what can video games do to help with development of the self and social skills?

Games provide a non-threatening virtual environment where a child can practice skills they need in the real world. They also provide an opportunity, if played collaboratively, to enhance negotiation, co-operation and conflict resolution, which are all important social skills.

And what is one negative that video games bring to the table?

My main concern is that children spend a long time playing games at the expense of time spent on other activities that are important for their development. When they are playing games they are missing out on being outside, exploring the environment, being physically active and interacting socially with their friends and family.

Increasingly parents have had the strain of surviving with rising living costs and video games are almost a virtual and free babysitter. Would that be fair to say?

Rising living costs aren’t counteracted by video games and, before technology, parents managed somehow.

If so, then what effect does this have on a child or teenager that doesn’t have as much of their parents attention because they have to work as many hours as they can to survive?

It depends how you define ‘survive’. Many work to run two cars, have holidays abroad and the latest consumer goods (including expensive games for their children). There is no substitute for spending time with children and, also, for allowing children to play freely in an unstructured way.

If we go back 50 years ago, one could argue that TV was also a bad influence on society. Do you think/ believe that this is just a phase of blame that the video game industry is going through?

It’s true that with time TV has become more acceptable and video games will no doubt become so too. Technology is a part of modern life and we can’t go backwards. We just have to make sure we balance these activities with all the other things that constitute a healthy and fulfilling life.

Video games and consoles aren’t going anywhere soon, so what can we do to make sure we aren’t sucked into the virtual world?

Non-violent games are going to continue to have a place in the modern child’s world, we can’t fight that. Let’s just keep it in perspective though and not let it get out of control or dominate our kids’ lives. An hour a day playing on the computer is plenty. And for every hour played, an hour outside being physically active would help ensure the child grows in a balanced environment. The problem is we have the balance tipped too much towards TV and computers. Parents can do a lot to redress that balance by setting limits and so help their child’s development.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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