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Euro kids prefer online games to e-mail, music – survey

Not necessarily a bad thing

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European kids spend more time playing games on the Internet than sending e-mails or downloading music, according to Safety, Awareness, Facts and Tools (SAFT), an EU-backed body that monitors and advises on how children use the Internet.

While the organisation acknowledges that gaming is a "new and positive element" in kids' lives, it warns parents to watch out of for signs of excessive gameplay, which could lead to "a form of addiction" and affect children's social lives.

SAFT's conclusion derives from a survey carried out in the five European countries in which it's active: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Ireland. In the Nordic regions, 90 per cent of children aged between nine and 16 play online games, the survey found, compared to 64 per cent in Ireland.

Some 4700 children were surveyed between January and March last year. On average the children asked play online games 2.3 hours per week. Girls play games almost as much as boys, but boys play more online. Boys favour action, sports and war strategy titles, while girls prefer 'god' sims.

Crucially, parents need to take a closer interest in the kids' gaming preferences, SAFT says. While adults express concerns regarding photorealism in games, children, the survey suggests, are well able to separate reality from the fictional environment of the game world.

"It is about time that grown ups take children's love for games seriously," said SAFT coordinator Elisabeth Staksrud.

"Games are a natural part of everyday life for children and youngsters. So it is crucial that parents pay attention to their children's playing of games, and show interest in the kind of games they are playing."

Parents who do so will be better able to appreciate how their children interact with and view the virtual world and to understand what constitutes excessive amounts of time spent playing online games.

"I would advise parents and teachers to react if a child continuously chooses games over other social activities, leaves the table before the meal is over, or skips school to play games. The important thing is to create a balance, and that may require
special attention from the adults," said SAFT steering group chair Karsten Gynther. ®

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