Video games tend to polarise opinions in a way that other entertainment media do not. People who do not play them cannot understand their attraction and that lack of understanding can lead to some games being demonised. While there is research designed to show the short term physical reactions of video games players, there is very little information about why people play video games and what impact they think playing games has on them. The BBFC today published the results of a research project involving video games players ranging from children as young as seven through to players in their early 40s; parents of young games players; games industry representatives; and games reviewers.
The research set out to gain insights into a number of issues including:
the attractions of playing video games;
what impact games players think playing has on them and their behaviour;
whether the interactivity element of games alters the experience;
what players think about the violence in some games;
how they choose which games to play; and
what parents think about video games.
The key findings of the research were:
that children begin playing games at an increasingly early age, but that the overall age of games players is getting older;
there is a sharp divide between male and female games players in their taste in games and how long they spend playing;
female games players tend to prefer ‘strategic life simulation’ games like The Sims and puzzle games and spend less time playing than their male counterparts;
male players favour first ‘person shooter’ and sports games and are much more likely to become deeply absorbed in the play;
younger games players are influenced to play particular games by peer pressure and word of mouth, but negative press coverage for a game will significantly increase its take up;
people play games to escape from every day life and to escape to a world of adventure without risk which is under the control of the gamer, unlike the real world;
games provide a sense of achievement and are active, unlike television and films which are passive. However, games are better at developing action than building character and as such gamers tend to care less about the storyline than making progress in the game;
gamers appear to forget they are playing games less readily than film goers forget they are watching a film because they have to participate in the game for it to proceed. They appear to non-games players to be engrossed in what they are doing, but, they are concentrating on making progress, and are unlikely to be emotionally involved;
gamers claim that playing games is mentally stimulating and that playing develops hand eye coordination;
violence in games, in the sense of eliminating obstacles, is built into the structure of some games and is necessary to progress through the game. It contributes to the tension because gamers are not just shooting, they are vulnerable to being shot and most gamers are concentrating on their own survival rather than the damage they are inflicting on the characters in the game. While there is an appeal in being able to be violent without being vulnerable to the consequences which similar actions in real life would create, gamers are aware that they are playing a game and that it is not real life;
gamers are aware that violence in games is an issue and younger players find some of the violence upsetting, particularly in games rated for adults. There is also concern that in some games wickedness prevails over innocence. However, most gamers are not seriously concerned about violence in games because they think that the violence on television and in films is more upsetting and more real;
gamers are virtually unanimous in rejecting the suggestion that video games encourage people to be violent in real life or that they have become desensitised. They see no evidence in themselves or their friends who play games that they have become more violent in real life. As one participant said: “I no more feel that I have actually scored a goal than I do that I have actually killed someone. I know it’s not real. The emphasis is on achievement.”;
non-games playing parents are concerned about the amount of time their children, particularly boys, spend playing games and would prefer that they were outside in the fresh air. However, they are more concerned about the ‘stranger-danger’ of internet chat rooms. While the violence in games surprises them and concerns some of them, they are confident that their children are well balanced enough to not be influenced by playing violent games;
while parents agree that there should be regulation of games some are happy to give their children adult games because they are “only games”.
David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said:“The BBFC classified just under three hundred video games last year. Most games in the UK are classified under a pan-European voluntary system, but those with adult content are required to come to us. We take this part of our responsibilities under the Video Recordings Act very seriously. Our examiners actually play the games for up to five hours, assessing all levels of the games and considering all the key issues. Players and the parents of young players can be sure that all aspects of the game have been taken into account before reaching a classification. We require key issues to be flagged and aids such as cheat codes to be supplied to us. We take context into account, and examine works in a way which is as thorough and penetrating as anywhere in the world.
“The element of interactivity in games carries some weight when we are considering a video game. We were particularly interested to see that this research suggests that, far from having a potentially negative impact on the reaction of the player, the very fact that they have to interact with the game seems to keep them more firmly rooted in reality. People who do not play games raise concerns about their engrossing nature, assuming that players are also emotionally engrossed. This research suggests the opposite; a range of factors seems to make them less emotionally involving than film or television. The adversaries which players have to eliminate have no personality and so are not real and their destruction is therefore not real, regardless of how violent that destruction might be. This firm grasp on reality seems to extend to younger players, but this is no reason to allow them access to adult rated games, as they themselves often admit that they find the violence in games like Manhunt very upsetting. Parents should not treat video games in the same way they would board games. We will continue to examine very carefully those games which come to us, to flag any concerns we have and, if necessary, to use our statutory powers.
“There is no question that video games are an important form of entertainment for an ever increasing number of people. As the technology improves the games will become more and more realistic and it is important that games are properly rated to protect younger players from the games with adult content, which the BBFC does. This research provides some valuable insights into why people play video games and what effect they think playing has on themselves and friends. It has also highlighted parental attitudes to video games. We hope that it will provide some food for thought for the industry, and everyone who has an interest in the impact of games and we will be taking the research outcomes into account as we review our games classification policies over the coming months.”
Notes for Editors
The research was carried out by Cragg Ross Dawson and was qualitative and consisted of interviews and discussions with people who play games. There was also field work with parents, people involved in the production of games, games designers and games reviewers writing in the specialist press. These were carried out in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle upon Tyne, Radlett in Hertfordshire, Croydon and greater London.
Copies of the report as well as a summary of the main findings can be downloaded from the BBFC website, or copies can be obtained from the BBFC Press Office.