Teachers should guide pupils on how to behave when gaming online as part of citizenship lessons, rather than exclusively focusing on the dangers posed by social media, according to a report published today.
The report – Gaming the System – published by children’s commissioner Anne Longfield, calls for teachers to cover how pupils should behave when they are gaming online with friends, as well as prepared for how they should interact with strangers online.
The research focused on several games that covered a range of associated risks: Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft, as well as the Fifa and Call of Duty franchises.
“Online games are places in which children come together and interact with friends (and sometimes people they do not know) as well as to play the games themselves,” the report said.
“Just as in the offline world children need to be guided in what is acceptable behaviour and prepared for social challenges they may face, so too do they need to be guided in the online world too. More needs to be done to prepare children for what they might encounter in online games.”
The report said citizenship lessons should focus more on online gaming rather than only covering social media.
It called for teachers to familiarise themselves with the kinds of games pupils play, and prepare pupils for what they might encounter online, such as the social aspects of games, as well as increasing “their resilience and awareness of how their actions may affect others”.
The report said that while the statutory guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE), mandatory from September 2020, includes information on staying safe online – as does current government guidance on teaching online safety in schools – “questions remain about how effectively schools will be able to teach this material in the context of a packed curriculum”.
The report notes that teachers’ own unfamiliarity with how online gaming works could be a further obstacle when teaching pupils about some of the risks they could face.
“Children say that they wish that parents and teachers knew more about the games they play so they could provide better advice on how to respond to some of the challenges they face,” the report said.
The report found that 93 per cent of children play video games. It highlights some of the risks involved in gaming online – children can be scammed for their personal information or from potentially unsafe friendships with strangers.
It also emphasises the addictive nature of online gaming and its similarity to gambling, especially when children make in-game purchases – known as “microtransactions” – in order to access locked game content. Some children had spent up to £300 per year whilst gaming online, while others reported that they found playing highly addictive, so that gaming became an “inescapable part of their lives” according to the report.
“It’s like gambling – you could lose your money and not get anyone good, or get someone really good,” said Tim, 16, a Fifa player interviewed for the report.
The report made a number of other recommendations, such as limiting the amount of money children can spend online, including features for players to track historic online spending, regulating “loot boxes” – in-game purchases – as a form of gambling, and implementing enforceable age ratings for online games.
Anne Longfield, commenting on today’s report, said: “Playing games online can be rewarding and exciting and help children to develop strategic skills and friendships, but they are also open to exploitation by games companies who play on their need to keep up with friends and to advance to further stages of a game by encouraging children to spend on loot boxes.”
A government spokesperson said: "Video games can be enjoyed by children safely as part of a healthy lifestyle and we encourage parents to use built-in controls to set spending and time limits.”
"But we are clear children must always be protected from harm and we will carefully consider the concerns raised in this report in relation to excessive or gambling-like behaviour."