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Ofcom reports on adult and children media attitudes suggest increase in video games play in 2020

Research by Ofcom released this week has revealed the important social role games have played for children during the socially restricted pandemic, and an increase of adults playing video games over the course of 2020.

The research comes from Ofcom’s annual reports, Adults Media Use and Attitudes, and Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes, which track media literacy amongst the UK population.

The reports draw from various sources including Ofcom’s quantitative Adults Media Literacy Tracker, Digital Exclusion Survey, and qualitative Children’s Media Lives.

Overall, the reports found that:

-          Nearly all children aged 5 to 15 years old went online in 2020.

-          The pandemic had enabled those who previously had limited digital skills embrace new technology and become more confident online.

-          6% of households still did not have access to the internet.

-          Six in ten (61%) of those who go online agreed that internet users must be protected from seeing inappropriate or offensive content.

-          Awareness of various technical tools and controls amongst parents was high (6 in 19).

The reports also demonstrate the important role video games played throughout 2020 for both adults and children, with social restrictions in place for much of the year.

How games helped players of all ages through lockdown

Ofcom’s research has revealed an increase of adults over 16 playing games in 2020 compared to previous years (62%), suggesting adults were seeking new forms of entertainment during the pandemic. Broken down further, a staggering 92% of 16-24 year olds played games on any device, and over half of all age groups up to 55 years played games.

The popularity of games is echoed amongst younger demographics as well, with seven in ten 5-15 year olds having played games online. For most children, particularly boys, video games were seen as an opportunity to catch up with friends and keep up their social lives with the majority of children playing games online against someone else they knew or met in person.

Video games were also seen to be increasing in popularity amongst girls, with “video games” moving up to third place in the list of favourite hobbies amongst girls, up from seventh in 2019 (whilst remaining in the top two for boys in both years). Among adults, similar levels of game playing was seen in men and women at 61% and 63% respectively. Those who were most financially vulnerable were more likely than average to play games on any device (75%) and to do so online (45%).

Use of parental controls and tools in the UK is high

Awareness of technical tools and controls amongst parents was high, and knowledge amongst children of how to use them was similarity high with 66% of children aged 12-15 stating that they knew how to block people when playing games.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 45% of parents of children who played games said they were concerned about the possibility of their child being bullied by other players. Another concern amongst parents was the pressure on their child to make in game purchases.

How the games industry tackles worries about in game spend and online abuse

Fortunately, the games industry has taken a number of steps to tackle those concerns at source.

As well as improving transparency on in game spend by making it part of the PEGI age rating system, family controls across platforms also allow players of all ages to manage, limit or turn off in game spend to keep on top of things.

Parental controls can also be used to manage who people can talk to – and how they interact – to reduce the possibility of unpleasant in game interactions. Moderation tools have also evolved significantly, with the vast majority of online games employing moderators, community managers and sophisticated AI tools to successfully protect players online.

However, parents have reported that it can be tricky to get those tools going. Our Get Smart About PLAY campaign has information on how to get them easily set up on all major platforms.

Read our advice on how to do that over at askaboutgames.com here.