Digital games can have a positive impact on children’s well-being

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BILLUND, DENMARK, APRIL 30, 2024: Digital games can contribute to and support the well-being of children if they are designed with the needs of children in mind, according to new research from UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight.

The study shows that well-designed digital play experiences can allow children to experience a sense of control, have freedom of choice and experience mastery and feelings of achievement. They can also help children to regulate their emotions, feel connected to others, and find joy in creating and exploring as well as acting on new ideas. These types of experiences are vital for children’s well-being and can even support their development.

Bo Viktor NylundDirector of UNICEF Innocenti, said: “For decades, people have often assumed that playing digital games is somehow bad for children, undermining their well-being. But our new study paints a far more complex picture – one in which these games can actually contribute to children’s well-being and positively support them as they grow up.”

“But not all children are impacted positively by games, and – crucially – not all games are having a positive impact on children. In fact, for games to support the well-being of children, game designers must take the needs of children into account and design games that support those needs,” Nylund said.

Anna RaffertySenior Vice President of Digital Consumer Engagementthe LEGO Group, said: “This exciting research from UNICEF and leading academics shows that safe and inclusive digital play can have a profoundly positive impact on children’s lives. We are proud to be partnering with like-minded organisations to understand how digital experiences can be designed in a way that puts children’s well-being first. These findings will empower responsible businesses to create a digital future where children are safe, nurtured and equipped to thrive.”

Photo by Julia M Cameron:

Digital producers can and should design for the well-being of children
This research was produced as part of the Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children (RITEC) project, an international collaboration between organisations that believe the design and development of digital technology should support the rights and well-being of children. The project was co-founded by UNICEF and the LEGO Group and is funded by the LEGO Foundation.

The study found that games can support children’s senses of autonomy, competence, creativity and identity, as well as help them regulate emotions and build relationships. But to support one or more of these aspects of well-being, digital games need to contain certain features. For example, to support children’s sense of autonomy, a game could put them in control, allow them to make decisions about gameplay and encourage them to develop their own strategies to progress. Or to support creativity, a game could allow children to freely explore and solve problems or create their own characters or narratives.

Bo Viktor Nylund said: “This research helps us understand not only how games can impact the well-being of children, but also helps the producers and designers of these games understand what elements they can include to support children. We hope they will consider these findings as they design the games our children will be playing in the future.”

Safety and security of children playing digital games – a vital topic which is already the subject of much research – was not as strong a focus in this study, but it was still found to be of fundamental importance to protect the well-being of children.

This research – which was produced in partnership with the University of Sheffield, New York University, City University New York and the Queensland University of Technology – establishes that digital games companies and games designers can and should support the well-being of children through the games they produce, convincingly demonstrating that digital play has a particularly positive impact on children’s well-being when it responds to their deep interests, needs and desires.

Today’s release of a report on the research and its findings will be followed later this year by the launch of a guide to assist businesses to incorporate these findings into the games they design.

About the research
The study comprised three research initiatives: experimental research through a multi-week digital play intervention involving 255 children aged between eight and 12 in the US, Chile and South Africa; observational research in the homes of 50 families over a 14-month period with children aged between six and 12 in Australia, Cyprus, South Africa and the UK; and lab-based research measuring heart rate, eye tracking, facial expressions and galvanic skin response of 69 children playing digital games, aged between seven and 13 in Australia.

UNICEF does not endorse any company, brand, product or service.

Read the full report here.

The RITEC (Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children) project was co-founded by UNICEF and the LEGO Group and is funded by the LEGO Foundation. The project is being delivered in partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, the Young & Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University; the CREATE Lab at New York University; the Graduate Center, City University of New York; the University of Sheffield and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.

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