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Digital skills

How does gaming equip young people for life?

A teenage girl plays computer games on a desktop computer. She has two screens and a headset on. In front of her, a camera is set up to record her for streaming.

The UK Safer Internet Centre has today released figures stating that 48% of young people say “if they couldn’t game online anymore, they would feel like they’ve lost a part of who they are.”  

As online gaming becomes a core part of many young people’s lives, from providing a source of connection and play to building skills and inspiring future creative and technology careers, Catch22 hosted our latest panel event. 

Exploring How does gaming equip young people for life?”, the event considered how skills from gaming can equip people for the job market, the social benefits to be gained, and how the relationships built can impact young people. Catch22 works with thousands of children and young people every year, alongside their families and their careers, and gaming can even be a source of building that initial one-to-one relationship.  

The panelists discussed the safety risks of gaming and how these compare to the risks across social media – then they discussed how these challenges can be tackled by industry, society, and parents or guardians. 

“Exploring the agency of games in this immersive experience – what it means to be a protagonist in a movie – is a wonderful way to explore some of the benefits of gaming.”

– Kat Dixon, Catch22 Director of Partnerships

Storytelling skills

Roderick, one of Catch22’s service users, a participant of The Social Switch Project, and an avid gamer, says the genre of game can teach different skills; from the storytelling and history of Assassin’s Creed to the design elements of Super Mario Maker, “it has inspired me to go for a career in animation”.

Game Academy’s David Barrie said games are more linked to the working world than ever, “they are a touchpoint for so many aspects of contemporary life”. Some of the latest research highlighting gaming benefits to players’ psych was also highlighted.  From Tetris helping prevent PTSD symptoms to improving young people’s literacy, there is significant research to back this. 

Roderick told us that he plays story-driven games and adventure games like Hollow Knight and Persona 5. He said gaming “has allowed me to be a better storyteller”, and he has been able to improve his communications skills. He now enjoys writing short stories and aspires to explore a range of careers including a 3D Animator or content creator. He has started developing in these areas already through his YouTube channel which focuses on 3D animation and storytelling.   

Roderick spoke about the potential harms of gaming, such as issues with verifying the identities of those playing games and dealing with toxic online behaviour. For Roderick, so long as he only games with those he personally knows, the benefits of the online world have outweighed the risks.   

The challenges of gaming  

In figures released by the UK’s Safer Internet Centre today, young people report at least one negative emotion in various online game situations. “This includes seeing someone being mean or nasty (73%), seeing someone cheat (73%), and falling out with a friend (68%) when playing an online game.” At the same time, 52% of young people who play online games, say it’s taught them to respect others.  

Gaming is often accused of fostering violent behaviour, and this was one of the first points put to the panel. David discussed the growing diversity of games, from educational to family-orientated. George added that research by the Oxford Internet Institute found no connection between violent behaviour in teenagers and the amount of time spent playing violent video games. He also suggested parents and carers use the Family Video Database to understand the breadth of games out there. The platform shows thousands of games separated into different categories.   

Representation in gaming

Women in Gaming’s Lucy Rissik spoke about the misconception that gaming is for a certain demographic, with the association being an image of a teenage boy in his room. She emphasised that people tend to forget that 50% of games are played by girls and women. Catch22’s Naomi Hulston, spoke about self-esteem online and the issue of avatars distorting perceptions of body image, calling for considerably better representations of how women are portrayed in games, to give young gamers a more realistic representation of society. Addressing some of the challenges and stigmas surrounding online gaming, Parent Zone’s Cliff Manning provided the perspective of parents, carers, and families.    

Gamblification of gaming

Cliff addressed concerns about the growing “gamblification” of gaming, and the business model of gaming which incentivises spending. Parent Zone’s research found that almost three-quarters of children think “online games try to make you spend as much money as possible”. Cliff highlights the pressure this causes for parents and the blurred lines occurring between gaming and gambling. Another challenge Cliff explains is that parents do not understand the wider gaming culture – the chat function, the fanfiction or how it can build careers. 

But George highlights that some parents are not aware of the safety measures they can put in place at the time a game is purchased – and the panel agreed that incentivising spend was an issue, particularly for those already at risk of being digitally excluded. But George advised that there are measures to put in place. For example, buying gift vouchers for game-use instead of handing out a credit card can provide young people with opportunity to access these gaming tools, but only alongside education in budgeting. 

Blind spots

Gaming can help young people find their identity and find groups they can connect with but the primary issue is the blind spot for parents, professionals, and in policy. Closing the event, Catch22’s Director of Partnerships Kat Dixon reflected on the need to address blind spots:

“Gaming sometimes appears risky because it feels unknown because a lot of parents and carers don’t engage or understand it in a way that makes them feel empowered. Engaging with the power of gaming in a digital space  – from budgeting to representation – is a really important conversation to have and we must work to overcome our blind spots.” 

The UKCIS (UK Council for Internet Safety), which Catch22 and Parent Zone, are both members of has the Digital Resilience Working Group, which aims to develop a digital resilience strategy, to enable individuals to have the digital skills and emotional understanding to feel empowered to act when they encounter problems online. 

Catch22’s Kat Dixon closed the event, with a final takeaway on skills and representation: 

“Thinking about being able to be in a space, potentially with other underrepresented groups, can be so beneficial. In our Catch22 digital programmes, we have high numbers of people with neurodiversity and finding space where they can engage in digital skills and the ability to harness that into digital careers is amazing. Agency in video games teaches us a lot about how we can learn digital, hard skills that can be transferred into other careers.”

Beyond the obvious soft skills that can be learnt from gaming – from collaboration and communication to negotiating and strategising – all of which can be applied to real-life work situations, UKIE’s George Osborn highlighted the career opportunities in gaming itself. With the industry contributing £5 billion to the UK economy each year and providing 70,000 jobs, the opportunities will only continue to grow.