Computer game hysteria

6th August 2004 at 01:00
Professor condemns media panic, and says there is no evidence games make children violent. Gillian Davies reports

Computer games do not turn children into killers, a conference was told last week.

Professor Henry Jenkins, director of comparative media studies at the University of Michigan, said media scares about computer games blamed technology for society's woes.

People thought children were being brainwashed, but research showed games did not alter their views, he told the Digital Generations conference at London university's Institute of Education.

Violent games were cited during reports of the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, a Leicester teenager, whose killer was said to have been influenced by the game Manhunt.

But Professor Jenkins said such games could not be blamed for violence.

"What matters more is the family life, social and cultural life," he said.

"If one sees the world as a hostile world which is aggressive and violent that may be reinforced (by a game)."

Games would not turn a child into a killer, but traumatic experiences, such as the murder of the Leicester teenager, started a search for explanations and led to demands for action which were not always the correct response.

Some High Street stores banned Manhunt after Warren LeBlanc, 17, was given a life sentence for killing 14-year-old Stefan with a claw hammer in what the victim's parents said was a copycat of the game's violence.

Primary school teacher Charlene Andersen said she believed the influence of computer games should not be underestimated. She said: "I have children as young as seven who play Grand Theft Auto and they tend to be more aggressive, exhibit more anti-social behaviour, don't do as well academically and have a lower level of concentration."

Children should be allowed to play computer games in the classroom to make learning fun and teach life skills, said Professor Angela McFarlane, of Bristol university. She said games where children got a mortgage and worked out how to pay could be used as a fun way to teach.

Professor McFarlane, who has designed software for more than a decade and whose latest project, CommuniCAT, won a European Educational Software Award, said parents were often against computer games being used in lessons, believing that education should not be fun.

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