Questioning video game use : an exploration of the spatial and gender aspects of children's leisure
This thesis explores the gendered and spatial aspects of children's leisure through an examination of the ownership and use of computer and video games. The study used a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods involving a questionnaire survey delivered to 1,600 children and young people aged between 8 and 18, and in-depth interviews with children aged from 5 to 16. Interviews with nine parents were also carried out. The thesis is situated within the new paradigm of the social study of childhood in that the child is taken as a competent social actor. The thesis argues that moral panics over children's leisure, more specifically around the child's use of computer and video games, are misplaced. The children's own opinions and readings of computer and video games are discussed, and the thesis shows the ways in which children are able to make sense of these games and incorporate their use into their everyday social lives in respect of friendship, family and sibling relations. Central to the thesis are the concepts of space and gender, and the ways in which these interact and can reveal the operation of power and control in children's everyday lives. These are aspects of children's leisure overlooked in previous work on video game play and to some extent also within the new paradigm. Chapter One sets the parameters for the following argument and includes a discussion of the moral panics around childhood generally and video games in particular. The chapter traces the development of the social study of childhood. Here it is argued that children are increasingly subject to control, by parents and by society, in all aspects of their everyday lives, the contention being that looking at children's leisure enables us to see the issues of power and control in performance. Chapter Two argues that what has been missing from the social study of childhood is an examination of the social contexts of children's leisure. Here it is argued that separating 'play' and 'leisure' reinforces the distinction between child and adult. Some of the literature around children's use of computer and video games is discussed, which largely ignores gender and power relations around the leisure use of these items. Chapter Three explains the rationale behind the methods used in this study. A discussion of children as questionnaire respondents is also included. Chapter Four shows the wide variety of leisure activities which are important to children and young people. It begins to explode the myth that children who play with computer and video games do this to the exclusion of any other activity. We also begin to see how an exploration of children's leisure can reveal spatial and gendered differences in preferred leisure activities. Chapter Five examines more closely children's ownership and use of computer and video games. By taking the children's own accounts of what it is that they like about these games, we are able to see that panics around children as passive recipients of the negative messages found in computer games is misplaced. We also see that there are gender differences in the kinds of games which girls and boys like. It is argued that one important factor in the popularity of these games is, for boys, that they are used as a tool in friendship and peer relations, and this argument is useful in countering fears of social isolation in children who play video games. Chapter Six examines the use of domestic space as a leisure site for children and explores the implications of this for issues of power and control. Using data from interviews with parents, it is argued that there is a tension between the child's use of video games for amusement and parents' hopes that they will be used for education. This chapter introduces a hitherto unexplored reason for gender differences in video game play - that girls use of these leisure items is controlled by their brothers. Chapter Seven argues that one of the attractions of video games is, for boys, that hey provide a means of escape from everyday life while girls find their escape through other leisure activities. Drawing on the work of several writers who have visualised 'other spaces', this chapter shows the ways in which the space of the imagination may be the one escape that children have from the boundaries around everyday life. Chapter Eight draws themes discussed throughout the thesis together. The stated aims are examined in order to see how far these have been answered. This chapter also includes recommendations for further research where appropriate.