TEENAGERS will be able to play competitive and violent computer games during lessons, as part of a new AS-level media studies course.
Exam board OCR has introduced an option for 2004 in which students will explore "conflict and competition in computervideo games".
Games which pupils will be able to study include the controversial Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where the player builds up a criminal empire through drug-dealing, murder and extortion.
Peter Fraser, a chief examiner with OCR, told a conference for software designers and academics at London university's institute of education that the module was expected to be controversial.
"To some extent it is almost goading the traditionalists," he said, anticipating the tabloid headlines. And he said teachers may be wary because pupils will often know more about the games than they do.
The gaming option is one of four which will be available for the comparative textual study section of the AS-level media studies exam. It will account for 30 per cent of the marks and requires about five weeks of lessons or 25 hours of teaching.
The other four options are: "consumerism and lifestyle magazines", "celebrity and the tabloid press", "music culture and radio", and "gender and television situation comedy".
In the exam pupils will write a single essay comparing an aspect of the texts they have studied. Long Road sixth-form college, Cambridge, is one of the first schools that has agreed to offer the option and has already invested in a set of PlayStation2, Gamecube and X-Box games consoles. Mr Fraser, head of media studies, said the popularity of computer games was a legitimate area of study.
Barney Oram, another media studies teacher at the college, said the course was expected to be extremely popular and would be a "mixture of hands-on practical work and teacher-led theory".
"Pupils could take a classic game like Space Invaders or look at the controversy around Vice City," he said.