Replicating China’s gaming ban could be harmful to children, warns UK IT body

It is the responsibility of parents – not the state – to decide how much time their children should spend on games, said BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

A professional body for the UK IT industry has warned that replicating China’s gaming ban could be damaging to young people’s education, advising the government to steer clear of introducing similar regulations.

According to Professor Andy Phippen, a fellow of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, gaming tasks like building Minecraft worlds with friends, or trading on Roblox, stimulate children’s interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines in a fun, engaging and thus memorable way.

Phippen added that it is the responsibility of parents, not the state, to regulate the time their children spend on games, but noted that they deserve better research and guidance on the short- and long-term impacts of excessive screen time to inform their decisions on the matter.

The caution follows the Chinese government’s announcement of the limit at the end of August, a move they claim to have implemented in response to a growing issue they call “youth video game addiction”. The restrictions will mean under 18s across the country will only be allowed to spend an hour a day playing video games on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

“It just seems such an odd thing to do and very unworkable” – Professor Any Phippen, BCS

Phippen, who specialises in digital rights at Bournemouth University, commented: “It just seems such an odd thing to do and very unworkable. While we are a little way off this in the UK, [former health secretary] Matt Hancock previously said social media companies should regulate the amount of time children spend on these platforms. It is, therefore, not such a massive step to see government-mandated screen time here in the UK, which makes me concerned.”

In response to this, the professor has listed five reasons why gaming restrictions would be a bad move from UK policymakers, including:

  1. Video games are often viewed, arbitrarily, as bad; however, lots of children are enthusiastic about them and develop STEM knowledge as a result, driven by an ambition to work in the industry. UKIE say the sector is now worth approximately £7bn. It should be viewed as a positive thing as long as it’s not done, like anything else, to excess.
  2. There is a lack of research about screen time and wellbeing. The better studies, such as one from the Oxford Internet Institute, show a weak correlation at best and suggest that gaming could be good for us. 
  3. Who will define what gaming is in this context? Would a child doing an online crossword or word search be ‘gaming’? What about building a Minecraft world with friends? That’s more like online Lego than gaming in the more traditional sense. 
  4. Is this something governments need to implement? Surely this should be a parental intervention if they’re concerned their children are online too much? While ‘gaming addiction’ is now defined in DSM-5 (the go-to manual for mental health disorders) diagnosis is difficult and people often use the term poorly. Phippen feels many parents are not sufficiently qualified to make a clinical diagnosis about gaming addiction. He says that, most of the time, parents feel children are playing online games more than they would like; in which case, the parents should do something about it.
  5. Why aren’t Chinese authorities worried about kids playing too many board games? “Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be for a government to say: ‘Children are playing too much Monopoly, it’s making them all disaster capitalists!” he said. 

The government’s draft Online Safety Bill – which requires social media platforms to abide by a duty of care to users, with financial penalties for failing to do so – will start being scrutinised by MPs and peers this month.

The proposals would ask platforms to identify and police “legal but harmful” content, which has raised concerns about free speech.

In other news: New Jisc reports underline education’s digital divide


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