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Safe Gaming – New Guidelines Will Support Children Online

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Research into how young people can be supported to use online gaming safely to enhance their mental well-being has been launched at the University of Birmingham.

The aim is to bring together young people, academics, and partners from the gaming industry with governmental organisations and charities to co-design a series of guidelines to better equip young people to make use of these important resources.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, young people are increasingly turning to online technologies and computer games for support during self-isolation. Weekly game sales rose between 40% and 60% in April, according to analysts at Futuresource, reflecting the stay-at-home requirements and young people spending increased time in virtual gaming environments. This was particularly true for games such as Fortnite and Animal Crossing, which offer opportunities to meet with friends virtually.

While these platforms offer obvious social opportunities, little research has been done into how virtual worlds can help us understand and respond to rising rates of adolescent mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and self-harm.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Programme, the three-month project is working towards identifying risks and developing guidelines on safe and positive gaming practices that can be used in schools, within families and communities and also by policymakers and clinical practitioners.

Lead researcher Dr Jack Rogers, in the University’s School of Psychology, says: ‘We know that young people are disproportionately affected by mental health problems, and it’s likely that the impacts of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting effect on the mental health and well-being of children and young people.

‘Now, more than ever, young people are seeking opportunities to stay connected with their friends via social media, online community forums and online gaming. It’s vital we harness the potential of online gaming to support young people, and make sure they can use this resource to enhance their mental well-being.’

Partners in the project will include specific groups of young people who have had to shield themselves during the pandemic; young people currently receiving mental health treatment in hospitals or care centres and young people who live in unsettled or unsafe family environments. Charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, NHS services including Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital and policy experts including the Royal Society for Public Health will also be involved along with industry experts from the gaming sector.

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