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How children harness the power of games

Parents, teachers and pupils all believe that playing electronic games that are fun can benefit children's education, according to a report by Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia (teem) for the DFES, writes Adam Jezard.

Researchers found children often worked together, even at home, to overcome obstacles ranging from installing software to accomplishing playing tasks. Children also e-mailed one another and shared information in the playground about games, aiding literacy, comprehension and communication skills. Boys were more likely to buy computer magazines than girls.

The study, of 700 seven to 16-year-olds, looked at simulation and quest-style games, and chartered pupils' use of PCs and games consoles at home and school. Games assessed included Lego Alpha Team, The Tweenies, MicroRacers, Age of Empires and RollerCoaster Tycoon. More violent "shoot-em up" and arcade-type games were excluded because of fears adults might be prejudiced against them, the researchers said.

While girls and boys played the same games, they played them differently. With SimCity, which involves creating a city and then playing out scenarios in it, girls are far more interested in designing the backdrop while boys tend to make more rudimentary settings and focus more on playing the game. Across the age range there was an acknowledgement that games supported a wide range of essential skills. Some, such as memorisation, sequencing, problem-solving, and deductive reasoning, were essential to a game's context. Others, such as peer tutoring, co-operation, collaboration and co-learning, were related to the ways in which groups worked on tasks.

Discussions were valued and led to the development of negotiation skills, group decision-making and respect for peers. Junior teachers also used games as the stimulus for other activities, such as literacy work. Boys were more likely to play a wider variety of games for longer, but 26.9 per cent of junior-age girls reported playing games for up to two hours at a time compared to 25.4 per cent of boys.

Perhaps surprisingly, adventure, race and shootingarcade games were equally popular with both sexes.

Games-playing among girls falls off as they become older, which could be due to maturation or may be because girls have only become immersed in games-playing culture more recently than boys. Just five per cent of the cohort reported having no access to the Internet at either home or school.

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