Are computer games harmful?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
December 01, 2011, 10:58 AM GMT+0

28% parents say time spent playing is harmful, 66% disagree; but 62% limit children’s playing time

Over a quarter of parents with young children feel that the amount of time their kids spend playing computer or video games could be harmful, our poll has found. And while two thirds think it ‘probably’ isn’t harmful, over three in five place limits on how long their children play on the games.

We asked almost 300 British parents with children aged 6 to 18 if they thought the amount of time their children spent playing computer or video games was harmful, and also quizzed parents on whether they set limits on the amount of time their children play the games.

  • 66% thought the amount of time spent playing was probably not harmful
  • 28% said they thought it probably was harmful
  • 62% put a limit on the amount of time their children play computer or video games
  • 37% do not impose a limit

When asked how long their children play on computer or video games, most parents either said that ‘less than an hour’ or ‘one to two hours’ was the norm. Just 9% in total said more than this, with just 2% saying that their children spend about 6 or more hours playing a day.

Television appears to be less worrying for parents ‒ 83% say that the amount of time spent watching the box is ‘probably not harmful’, while far fewer parents place restrictions on the time spent watching it than spent playing games (44% imposing limits on TV compared to 53% who do not do so.)

Almost half say that the amount of time their children spend watching TV is around one to two hours, while one in five thinks the figure is more like two to three hours. Just 1% said their children spend over six hours watching a day.

Health and safety

Playing computer games, especially in the case of children, is sometimes derided as a time-wasting activity that can foster aggression and encourage a sedentary lifestyle. However, in moderation, games have also been credited as improving children’s logic and problem-solving abilities, reportedly helping them with everything from spatial awareness and multi-tasking to memory and maths skills.

When it comes to actual game content, in the UK most video games are not subject to regulation. However, especially ‘explicit’ video games are controlled in a similar way to films, and receive a British Board of Film Classification under the ‘PEGI’ (Pan European Game Information) Code of Conduct system before going on sale. Games involving high levels of sex, violence or swearing risk a high classification, while the Video Standards Agency also highlights fear, discrimination, gambling or drugs as issues parents and game-players should be aware of.

The ‘PEGI’ classification is set to become mandatory for all games under UK law from Spring 2012, but from a health and safety perspective, the regulatory body simply advises parents that children should play in a well-lit room, take regular breaks and not play one game for ‘hours on end’.

Festive family fun?

Recently, video and computer games have seen a recent resurgence in advertising as brands try to present them as the perfect Christmas gift. As for television, Christmas specials of programme favourites are a long-running stalwart of the holiday season. However, with family members coming together for the occasion, the potential for fractured tempers over games played and rows over the remote control could run high.

Indeed, well over a third (37%) of parents say that computer games or the television are ‘sometimes’ or ‘frequently’ the source of arguments within their family – and just 26% say that games or TV have ‘never’ been the reason for a family falling out.

See the survey details and full results here (page 12-14)