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Computer games 'reduce chance of going to university'

But they have little effect on career prospects

A study of 17,200 men and women born in 1970 has found that playing computer games regularly "and doing no other activities" noticeably reduced the chances of an individual going to university.

The survey, conducted by Mark Taylor, from Oxford University's department of sociology, questioned participants about their extracurricular activities at the age of 16 (in 1986) and about their careers at the age of 33 (in 2003). It also took note of whether they went to university or not.

Regular video game use - when combined with no other extracurricular activities - was found to reduce respondents' chances of going into higher education from 24 percent to 19 percent for boys and from 20 percent to 14 percent for girls.

Fans of gaming will be pleased to hear, however, that a solid grounding in the world of video games didn't seem to affect the class of 1988's career prospects.

Taylor "found that playing computer games frequently did not make it less likely that 16-year-olds would be in a professional or managerial career at 33", the study's report reads.

What did affect career prospects significantly? Reading, of course. Read Oxford University's report on the study for more details.

Time for some anecdotal evidence

Now, I've played computer games pretty heavily from the age of 16 until now, and it's tempting to take a little umbrage at this study, or rather its implications. Despite the affliction of owning successively an Atari Lynx, a SNES, a PlayStation, a PS2, a Wii and an Xbox 360, I made it to university, at least; in fact, it was the same university that published this report - and while there I distinctly recall observing several future captains of industry devoting hour after furious hour to killing the Emerald Weapon on Final Fantasy VII.

But then, I wasn't born until 1979; and I feel that things changed quite a bit between my generation and the one that was questioned in this survey. In my day, at any rate, games had become distinctly mainstream - FF7, of course, was for many people the first game that tempted them into regular proper gaming sessions. And now, of course, every man and his dog plays Angry Birds on their phone when they're waiting for the bus.

To young people today, games are just something that's there - one of many entertainment options, and one that can be treated just as obsessively or casually as films, or music, or whatever else teenagers actually do these days.

I might be wrong, but I think this survey is giving a snapshot of the gaming scene as it was - one in which gaming was a minority hobby that might be associated with a lack of ambition. And I find it hard to believe that a survey conducted in 20 years' time, questioning people born in 1990, would find the same results. Maybe for that generation, regular gaming could even be like reading for those born in 1970 - something that helps you develop as a person, and actually benefits your career.

Update: It seems Mark Taylor shares at least one of my reservations. Discussing the study with the Guardian, he said: "The main thing I would highlight, because this is the 1970 cohort, when they played video games in 1986, that's not very many people. And the state of videogames in 1986 is nothing like it is now."

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