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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Reading between the lines
Students reading in a library
Are books being left on the shelf?
Prince Charles has said children should be reading more and playing computer games less, something he describes as today's "big battle". But are computer games being unfairly maligned?

BBC News Online spoke to people on both sides of the argument.

Children's Laureate Anne Fine

"I wholeheartedly agree with Prince Charles but I am more optimistic than him.

There was such a huge emphasis on computer screens and going online over the last decade. But more and more people agree that there is no point in having extraordinarily fast ways to communicate if there is nothing really valuable to say."

Child reading in school
Anne Fine: "More optimistic than Prince Charles"
"I think it has become very apparent that children would be losing something valuable by not reading but I feel more cheerful because book funds are going up.

Studies show that schools which emphasise books have better results and children who read more have a better understanding of themselves and of the world they live in."

Mike Rawlinson, general manager of the European Leisure Software Publishers' Association

"Reading and computer games both have a part to play.

Often the criticism of computer games stems from ignorance. Parents in their 30s who grew up with computer games now see their children playing them - it is natural for them."

Lara Croft
Tomb Raider encourages "spatial thinking"
"Parents of Prince Charles' generation have a fear factor because it is not natural for them.

Books have been around for centuries but if they came into our lives today and children went off to their bedrooms to be on their own for hours reading - would we be that happy?

Computer games also have educational benefits - they improve hand/eye co-ordination, but also a lot of games require children to think strategically and to plan, which are skills which can be taken into the classroom.

There is also such a broad variety of computer games and they are not all about shooting or killing people. The most popular game in the UK in 2000 was Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

David Wilson, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

"Computer gaming is a hugely satisfying pastime, that takes a valid place amongst other forms of entertainment.

Contrary to popular misconceptions there is no credible psychological evidence that shows that video gaming is anything but beneficial, but there is evidence that supports it as having educational benefits and further that it is a social pastime."

Playstation 2
Games consoles, such as the Playstation 2, are becoming more advanced
"Playstation is a much more compelling form of entertainment because it is interactive. It isn't passive entertainment, players can take control of a story and change the outcome, players can participate in their favourite sport and score that winning goal, or lift that championship cup.

Books are an excellent form of entertainment but provide different stimuli and are extremely meritorious in their own right - but I see the two sitting side by side rather than conflicting with each other.

I suppose like all things in life, there is a question of moderation. If people choose a balance, then each form of entertainment is valid, beneficial and satisfying."

Steven Poole, author of Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Videogames

"Videogames have been seen as the antithesis of reading and learning in the same way that watching television has: they're both thought to be, basically, quick fixes of mindless entertainment.

But games certainly require a higher degree of intellectual engagement than does most commercial television.

Playing a game such as Tomb Raider encourages a degree of very sophisticated spatial thinking and motor co-ordination, but it is not proven that such skills are transferable to other areas of life, which would presumably be the criterion for calling it educational.

On the other hand, the videogame form can be very good at teaching complex dynamic processes.

For example, a game called SimCity, which requires the player to build an imaginary city while balancing the budget and the competing demands of business, housing, public transport and so on, is widely used on undergraduate economics courses in America.

The majority of games - as with other artforms, such as cinema - mean to deliver a pleasurable experience rather than a lecture, and I see nothing wrong with that.

Game-playing at the expense of reading is certainly a bad thing, but game-playing at the expense of other pursuits, such as watching television or skateboarding, doesn't seem like such a menace to society."

Kim Hardie, Waterstones

"We absolutely agree with Prince Charles about the importance of books. If you instil a passion for books in children then it will last for a lifetime.

But we don't think books and computer games are mutually exclusive - both have an educational, entertaining and informative role.

And with the growth in e-publishing and online publishing this can only increase.

E-books could well be a good way to encourage children to read, especially those who are not likely to go into book shops.

We don't think e-books will ever take the place of traditional books but they could play a large part in reading skills in the future."

See also:

11 Jul 01 | New Media
Prince battles video games
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