Part of the statutory role of the Children’s Commissioner is to consider the views and interests of children. Both are important parts of my role, but sometimes they can be in competition. Listening to children is a principle I hold incredibly tight, but I can see that listening uncritically to children’s views on certain issues – like appropriate bedtimes – may not be in their interests. Gaming is one of those areas where I fear children’s views and interests may be in competition.
The findings that I publish today show that children generally support playing video games, and do not see them as a significant cause of harm to their health and wellbeing. Children did say they were more concerned about the impact of multi-player games, and girls were less positive about their impact than boys.
However, that does not mean that we should not ward against the very real harms that can go along with gaming for some children. As the qualitative re-analysis of data from The Big Ask survey shows, children have conflicting feelings about games – seeing them as a fun hobby that they value, but also expressing wariness about the addictive nature of games and other associated harms.
My work on children’s experiences of growing up online has demonstrated to me how the online world is integral to children’s lives but also how pervasive and traumatic online harms, such as unwitting exposure to pornography, can be. With gaming specifically, I am reiterating my concerns about the clear harms associated with gambling on children in relation to paid loot boxes in video games.
Children have a right to play – and that extends to the digital playgrounds of video games. Gaming can be a very social activity through which children find community, and have a lot of fun! Children learn new skills and develop new forms of reasoning, and some of them will even go on to have careers in e-sports, streaming, or the tech sector more generally.
Whether it’s in their local park or in a gaming lobby with their friends, children should be able to play in safety. I will continue to look into the issues of harms for children that come from gaming, and how these could be mitigated. In particular, I will ensure that children’s concerns about multi-player games as a potential source of harm are reflected in the implementation of the Online Safety Act.