Comment: Game on05 December 2018

Video games promote violence and fuel obesity among our young people. That is the message we often hear, but now new research from the University of Surrey claims girls who play video games are more likely to choose physical science, technology, engineering or maths (PSTEM) degrees, compared to their non-gaming counterparts.

The research, led by Surrey University higher education lecturer Dr Anesa Hosein, found that 13-to 14-year-old girls classed as ‘heavy gamers’ – those playing over nine hours a week – were three times more likely to pursue a PSTEM degree, compared to girls who were non-gamers.

Alongside the research, Dr Hosein recommends that educators use the study results to try and increase girls’ participation in PSTEM subjects. As girls are historically underrepresented in engineering, that would be a welcome development. But maybe we should be thinking even bigger: could the engineering community and game developers encourage all young people into PSTEM subjects by working together?

Many popular games encourage and even develop engineering skills, in a context of entertainment. Big games such as Minecraft and Fortnite require players to build structures with thought, while deciding what ‘material’ to construct with is key. Simulator experiences such as Euro Truck and Dig It! even put players in the ‘seat’, and role-playing games like Pokémon give gamers the chance to explore different environments, including factories, warehouses and power plants. Smaller games, across mobile phone app stores, even require players to think like an engineer; just look at Tetris (problem-solving) and Angry Birds (geometry).

If the engineering sector is to have any hope of finding next-generation talent, new methods are needed; we have to start speaking the same language as young people. The video game route is certainly worth exploring.

Adam Offord

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