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Video games ‘can help improve literacy among young people’

Playing video games can help literacy, creativity and wellbeing among young people, new research suggests.

An interest in gaming can help encourage young people to pick up a book by sparking an interest in a particular topic. 

Nearly 80 per cent of 4,600 young people aged 11 to 16 who played video games read materials relating to gaming such as fan fiction, reviews and blogs. 

Young people also see games as offering a route into reading and a way to boost confidence in their reading skills, the study by the National Literacy Trust reveals. 

According to the research, the literacy benefits of gaming were found to be stronger in boys and reluctant readers. 

Parents have also said that being able to communicate with friends through video games during lockdown has been helpful for their child’s mental wellbeing.  

‘We know that video games are a part of everyday life for so many children, young people and families across the UK,’ said Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust (NTL).

‘So it is exciting to uncover the opportunities that video game-playing can provide for young people to engage in reading, stimulate creativity through writing, enhance communication with friends and family, and support empathy and wellbeing.

‘Covid-19 has significantly disrupted young people’s literacy and learning in recent months, and we want to ensure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to identifying new and innovative ways to support children’s literacy when they return to school in September.’

The research was carried out with the Association of UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) and Penguin Random House Children’s to explore the relationship between video games and literacy engagement among school pupils. 

This report outlines findings from 4,626 young people aged 11 to 16 from across the UK, surveyed between November and December 2019.

NTL also published surveys of young people and parents during the Covid-19 lockdown, conducted between May and early June 2020 on 3,817 young people aged 11 to 18 and 826 parents of young people in this age group.  

Of the 4,626 young people aged 11-16, 79 per cent who played video games also read materials relating to gaming, such blogs, fan fiction and magazines that accompanies games series, such as ‘Fortnite World’. 

Overall, reading materials relating to gaming included in-game communications (cited by 40 per cent as a reading material they enjoyed), reviews and blogs (31 per cent), books (22 per cent) and fan fiction (19 per cent). 

Just over a third of the respondents (35 per cent) said they believed playing games had made them better readers. 

Video games were also found to be effective at engaging reluctant readers with stories.

73 per cent who said they don’t enjoy reading revealed that playing video games helped them feel more part of a story than reading a book-based text. 

Respondents also said video games encouraged creativity through writing – 63 per cent of young gamers write something relating to video games.

This includes video game scripts (28 per cent), advice to help other players (22 per cent), fan fiction (11 per cent) and blogs or reviews (8 per cent). 

58 per cent of the 4,626 young people declared an interest in writing or designing video games and 31 per cent said they’d like more opportunities to read and write about video games in school.   

The ‘shared cultural experience’ of playing video games was also found to support communication with friends and family – even more so than reading books, which is seen as a more personal experience.

Three-quarters (76 per cent) of respondents said they had talked to their friends about video games compared with only three in 10 (29 per cent) who had discussed books. 

In addition, young people said that playing video games had helped them to build social connections both in real life and online. 

The research also suggested that gaming had the ability to increase empathy among players – 65 per cent said games helped them imagine being someone else.  

Overall, boys were found to be more likely to play video games than girls, with 96 per cent of boys and 65 per cent of girls partaking in gaming. 

Video games also supported the mental health of young people during lockdown by helping them ‘deal with or escape from’ stress and difficult emotions. 

In the separate survey of 826 parents, 56 per cent said their children had used a game as a means of chatting to friends and family during the coronavirus pandemic.  

While 60 per cent of parents felt that communicating with family and friends as part of playing a video game during lockdown had been helpful for their child’s mental wellbeing during this time.  

In the sample of 3,817 11 to 18-year-olds, nearly twice as many boys than girls said they chatted with family and friends as part of playing a video game during lockdown (71 per cent versus 40 per cent). 

‘Video games transport us into new worlds, new experiences and make us feel part of the story like no other medium,’ said Rhianna Pratchett, an author and video games writer who has worked on Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword and Mirror’s Edge.

‘It’s no surprise to see that young people’s engagement with video games is at an all-time high, and it’s great to see the important work the National Literacy Trust are doing to better understand how games can help improve literary, emotional engagement and understanding in their audience.’ 

Last month, a study found that boys had fallen further behind girls at reading regularly and enjoying it during lockdown. 

Greater access to audiobooks at school and home may help re-engage boys with literacy, the report from the National Literacy Trust and Puffin advised. 

More recent research also revealed that playing violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty won’t make children more aggressive. 

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