Playing video games 'helps boys conform'

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
But beware of violent titles, say academics
But beware of violent titles, say academics

Boys who do not play video games at all could be at even greater risk of low achievement and suspension than those who do, say researchers.

But teachers should still watch out for children who frequently play violent computer games.

The academics, who studied 1,200 children and 500 parents in the US, found that playing games was a marker of social competence uniting children, especially boys.

The research, funded for about pound;750,000 by the US Justice Department, also highlighted the fact that there was no pattern of teenage gunmen being regular players of violent video games.

The dorm-mates of Seung-Hui Cho, the student who carried out the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, described him as weird because he did not play video games at all.

The findings are examined in Grand Theft Childhood, a new book that debunks myths about the dangers of computer games.

Lawrence Kutner, one of its authors, said: "Kids who don't play (video games) at all are actually at greater risk of getting into trouble. It says something about their social relationships." He and his co-author and wife, Dr Cheryl Olson, both of Harvard Medical School's Centre for Mental Health and Media, conclude there is "no evidence" for video games making pupils violent.

The couple also criticise previous research, which studied only university students over short time periods, and did not differentiate between the long- and short-term effects of playing the games.

But the study is not all good news for pupils trying to get their parents to buy them the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto, out this week.

Compared with boys who regularly played ordinary video games, boys who frequently played at least one adult-rated title were more than twice as likely to get into physical fights, hit or beat someone up, damage property for fun, or steal.

They were also more than twice as likely to report poor performance at school, or get into trouble with a teacher, and three times more likely to report being threatened or injured with a weapon such as a gun or knife.

Dr Olson said: "The odds of boys' involvement in all these behaviours increased with each additional mature-rated title on their 'frequently played' games list."

The US findings come after the publication of a British Government-commissioned report from Tanya Byron, the TV psychologist, which recommended a much tougher system of age-classification for computer games.

She said that all games consoles should include a blocking mechanism, so parents could stop children playing unsuitable games, and also recommended that families should not allow children to play video games alone in their rooms.

'Grand Theft Childhood' is not published in Britain, but can be ordered at www.grandtheftchildhood.com or downloaded at www.simonsays.com.

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