A researcher at Oxford University has discovered that regularly playing computer games reduces the chances of going to university by a significant amount.
Mark Taylor, who performed the research for the Department of Sociology, asked 17,200 people who were 16 in 1986 about their education level, subsequent career and extra-curricular activities that were enjoyed during their teenage years.
The study found a correlation between gaming and a decreased likelihood of going to university. Only 19 per cent of male gamers were likely to go to university, compared to 24 per cent for those who did not game or enjoy any other extra-curricular activity. The figure was 14 per cent for female games, compared to 20 per cent who didn't game.
Despite the lower chance of higher education, Taylor found that gaming had no impact on careers. Those who enjoyed computer games were no less likely to take on professional or managerial posts at the age of 33.
A link between reading and university enrolment was also discovered and marked the strongest finding of the study. The likelihood of going to college for boys who read books in addition to one other cultural activity was 54 per cent, compared to 24 per cent who did not. A similar figure of 48 per cent compared to 20 per cent was recorded for girls.
Thinq_ spoke with the author of the report, Mark Taylor, about his findings. We asked if he believed similar findings would be found in studies covering more recent years, since gaming was not as popular in 1986 as it is now.
"It's difficult to say, as we have no data on kids who are growing up now,” he said but commented that it would be “completely insane to say that you're going to see exactly the same results replicated across time.” He said he'd be “very surprised” to see similar results for modern teenagers. “Not many [people] were playing video games [in 1986]. The picture is completely different nowadays. I wouldn't like to make that generalisation at all.”
We asked if Taylor played computer games. “Yes, personally I'm a pretty serious gamer,” he said, adding that he's “not fully hardcore” but probably spends four hours a week playing games. He said that plenty of his friends and college peers played games.
Taylor believes there is educational value in games. "Education is not just about piece of paper you get at the end of the exercise. If people get something out of gaming then that's fantastic. While playing games might not make you any better at your English A Levels, it might make you more interested in programming.
"A lot of the pioneers in gaming were not particularly well qualified”, but yet went on to have highly successful careers. He added that the things needed to become a games developer “aren't necessarily things that can be taught.”
Taylor was concerned about his research being potentially taken out of context, since it covered a range of extra-curricular activities, such as reading and going to a theatre or museum, rather than focusing on gaming.
He said the study represents how these activities affect people's likelihood of going to university, but that a major finding was that “it doesn't bear out further on people's lives,” such as their ultimate career choices.
We also spoke with Jessica Tams, managing director of the Casual Games Association. She said, “I find the study very interesting. It is remarkable that, according to Taylor's research, those who played video games when younger were just as likely to secure managerial and
professional jobs without attending University. This might just say more about Universities than video games.
“As a society, we place great pressure on our children to prepare them for success as adults and many have been lead to believe that the only path to success is by preparing them to attend a prestigious University. But given that, according to Taylor's research, none of the extra-curricular activities at 16 were associated with a greater or lesser income at 33 should really make parents pause to think about the justification of the pressures we place on our children.”
In regard to the potential harmfulness of excessive gaming, Tams said, “Lack of moderation is harmful, no matter the activity. Too much exercise can kill, but that doesn't mean one should stay in bed all day for fear of using one's muscles as there are clear benefits to adequate exercise. It is all about balance and it is up to parents to ensure that the messages reaching their children allow them to achieve balance in their activities.”