Children who spend hours every day on their Playstation or Xbox video consoles may not be rotting their brains, as many parents fear. A report from the European parliament concluded yesterday that computer games are good for children and teach them essential life skills.
Contrary to fears about the violent reputation of some games, there is no firm proof that playing them has an automatic negative impact on children’s behaviour, for example by causing aggression, said the report from the committee on the internal market and consumer protection.
Instead, “video games can stimulate learning of facts and skills such as strategic thinking, creativity, cooperation and innovative thinking, which are important skills in the information society.”
Toine Manders, the Dutch liberal MEP who drafted the report, said: “Video games are in most cases not dangerous. We heard evidence from experts on computer games and psychologists from France, the US, Germany and the Netherlands and they told us that video games have a positive contribution to make to the education of minors.”
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The study called for schools across Europe to consider using games for educational purposes and urged parents to take a greater interest in them.
“Schools should pay attention to video games and inform children and parents about benefits and disadvantages that video games can have,” the report said.
The findings are likely to surprise supporters of tougher regulation of computer games, some of which have been blamed for influencing violent crime among children.
Last year the mother of Stefan Pakeerah, a 14-year-old boy from Leicester who was murdered by a 17-year old wielding a knife and a claw hammer, claimed her son’s killer was influenced by the computer game Manhunt in which players earn points for stealth killings.
Keith Vaz, who chairs the Commons home affairs select committee, has called for tighter controls and described Grand Theft Auto, a popular “shoot ’em up” game, as “violent and nasty”.
The European parliament conceded that “violence in video games can in certain situations stimulate violent behaviour,” but said there was no need for Europe-wide legislation. It called for a Europe-wide approach to prevent the sale to children of games intended for adults and urged the introduction of stricter identity checks at the point of sale and a wider application of the age-rating system that currently applies to computer games in many European countries.
Total revenues from the video gaming sector amounted to more than €7bn (£6.25bn) last year, the report said and in the UK, video games outsold music and other video products for the first time last year, according to separate research.
The growing market for online games needed to be better controlled, the MEPs said, and online games should include a red button on the screen which children or parents could click to disable the game.
Manders said the button could also be linked to the administrators of the Pan-European Game Information age rating system, so that when a game player presses it, PEGI is informed and can investigate potentially disturbing games that are available through the internet.