BBC Radio debates child gaming habits

MP Keith Vaz takes on GamersVoice.

MP Keith Vaz and independent pressure group GamersVoice have been debating, on UK national radio, the amount of time children spend playing video games.

The BBC Radio Three show, hosted by Ben Jackson, began with some choice quotes from unnamed members of the public.

"When parents are letting their children play video games for obviously a length of time, I personally think you're going to ruin that kid's social skills and obviously the ability to obviously to go out there and make conversation, because you're not learning anything playing a computer game are ya?" reasoned one man.

"When I was a kid," began an older man, "we used to be out and about, but nowadays they just sit in front of a telly and play video games. I don't think it does the child any good."

The third and final vox pop offered a slightly different viewpoint: "As long as they [the parents] regulate the time and they [the kids] do get a balance: a mixture of playing outside and playing [video] games and they have done all the chores and they don't take the Michael and sit on it all day."

Jackson opened the debate proper with Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East. Vaz urged "concern".

"The research that we've had so far indicates that over a period of time there is a worry that people, young children, are spending too much time on the internet and playing these games," he said.

"The internet can be used as a force for good and video games can provide the opportunity for people, young people to be able enjoy themselves. But the concern is the length of time they are spending on the internet and playing video games and also, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that those video games that have adult content are being seen by those under the age of 18."

"The problem with the gamers is that they go berserk any time anyone says anything about these video games as if they were the Holy Grail of entertainment."

Keith Vaz

"I cite as my evidence a Mr Miyamoto, the creator of one of the greatest video games ever - Super Mario," Vaz added, "who suggested in an article in The Times on 22nd April that young people should drop their joypads and venture out into the sunlight once in a while. If someone like that can say it then it is something that we need to be concerned about."

Vaz revealed that his two teenage children have game consoles "and I'm constantly telling my son to come off of his machine". "But it is a bit of a battle and one doesn't want to upset one's children," he said, "especially when they're teenagers ha ha ha ha."

Vaz touted research done by an academic in Essex - not Joey Essex I hope - that "there was a big difference in the fitness of young people around about 10 years of age" now compared to in 2008. Fitness has declined by 27 per cent, said Vaz. What's more, "arm strength" has fallen by 26 per cent and "grip strength" by 7 per cent.

"So these are concerns. That's what I'm saying," continued Vaz.

"The problem with the gamers is that they go berserk any time anyone says anything about these video games as if they were the Holy Grail of entertainment. But we need to have a proper sensible debate to recognise that we should be concerned about content and the length of time [children spend playing]."

Paul Gibson, chairman of GamersVoice, acknowledged that "clearly" there has to be a balance. "We're certainly not going to advocate that you should sit your child down in front of their PlayStation or their Xbox and leave them to it as it were. It's about responsible parenting at the end of the day," he said.

The debate then moved on to age ratings, and how parents should be better informed about what their children are buying and playing - just as Tanya Byron outlined in her Government-commissioned report in 2008.

Later this year, PEGI will take over from BBFC as the sole, legally enforced, age-ratings body for video games. Gibson said there will be an advertising campaign to ensure parents know what's going on.

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