Games = Illiteracy, Says British Conservative

January 8, 2007 -
Say no to Nintendo... garrotte the Game Boy... paralyse the PlayStation...

So says Boris Johnson, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, in an anti-game rant on his personal website. Johnson, who draws upon a background as a journalist, is apparently of the Bill O'Reilly school when it comes to games. His comments include:
Millions of seven- to 15-year-olds are hooked, especially boys, and it is time... as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and the prospects of young males.

in the six years following 1997, the numbers of young children who said that they didn't like reading rose from 23 per cent to 35 per cent... I refuse to believe that these hypnotic little machines are innocent...

These machines teach (children) nothing. They stimulate no ratiocination, discovery or feat of memory - though some of them may cunningly pretend to be educational. I have just watched an 11-year-old play a game that looked fairly historical, on the packet. Your average guilt-ridden parent might assume that it taught the child something about the Vikings and medieval siege warfare.

Phooey! The red soldiers robotically slaughtered the white soldiers, and then they did it again, that was it. Everything was programmed, spoon-fed, immediate...

Huge numbers are still leaving primary school in a state of functional illiteracy, with 44 per cent unable either to read, write or do basic sums. By the age of 14, there are still 40 per cent whose literacy or numeracy is not up to the expected standard...

For more on Boris Johnson, check his Wikipedia entry.


Query: Do other hobbies for children/teenagers promote literacy? For example, football, generally considered to be a "wholesome" and "worthy" pastime for high-school age people. The muscle-heads at my school aren't even reading what they have to for school assignments, much less for enjoyment. And most of these are the kind of people who consider gaming a "wussy" or "nerdy" hobby (unless, of course, it's Madden or GTA). Is it really video games that are causing a decline in reading, or is it simply the fact that people don't want to read anymore?

Many of the points raised above are questionable. One said that he learned some Japanese by playing a game. Another said that he learned to read by playing another game. A third argued that he learned "a thing or two" about World War II by playing a third game. One even argues that people don't want to read because they don't want to read. Another adds that he plays video games but is an honors student, which implies that he represents the population of students playing video games.

Jane Healey and other psychologists have shown that playing video games do not replace reading and other activities, and that they and other media (including television) impede learning. Also, there are many other activities, such as sports, which enhance hand-eye coordination, and board games, which encourage social skills. Why are all of these ignored in favor of video games?

Finally, I find it incredibly strange that many posters insist that video games helped them learn. And what about those who didn't grow up playing video games? What can you say about them?

That is why, in response to Terminator, I don't find it hilarious when old people say younger generations are not as educated because that is a fact.

Illiteracy = Not being able to read...Am I correct? Just because they dont read books does not mean that they dont read.

I admit that it may sound a little wierd but video games are merely books with sound, graphics, and a more involved interaction that books cannot match. Although I admit books do provide more detail and more creativity, do not look down on video games as being inferior to books.

Honestly poeple talk up books a LITTLE too much (they are good, I read a lot, dont misinterpret me). However, Theres plenty of badly and poorly written books out there as well as poor video games. FOr every bug in a game you find a misprint or an error in a book.

game+educational. if I had played it right after I got it, I would have learned stuff (we covered the subjects in class the week I first played it)
hey, look, paper on games as educational.

plus, look at me. I was born the year of the SNES release, and when my hands were big enough to hold the controller, I was playing one. I"m an honour student, I am currently only not reading due to a TON of school work (exam time. hooray.) and I've been reading classic novels since I was 7 (I'll never forget staying up all night with a flashlight finishing that one chapter of Moby Dick, then reading more because I was so excited)

I still play games, and I've noticed since I became a serious gamer (last year) I have increased memory, decreased reaction time, and at least in my opinion, better problem solving skills than non-gamers/casual gamers of my age.

*Is a video game player*

*Is currently a high-school honors student whose favorite books include Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" and Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe", splits his spare time in class by either reading novels such as the ones I mentioned, *graphic* novels ("Johnny The Homicidal Maniac" needs more recognition for being possibly one of the greatest, most rightfully pessimistic social commentaries of our generation, in ANY artform), or psychology/philosophy books, and greatly enjoys reading about different cultures, religions and spiritualities, and really loves getting to sound off about his political and artistic opinions in essays and analytical papers, as I'd wager you can tell right now.*

Or, going the short road... This man is a crackpot. And not one of the GOOD crackpots, like John Waters...

Don't worry Mister Johnson, I'm sure they'll figure out how to make video games try and humorless, just like the early British literature you invoke every time you hit us with one of those darling colloquialisms.

But if it is all the same to you, I'll stick with Terry Pratchett and Simon R. Green. I understand you might have trouble understanding my point of view, but please understand that your contemporaries, Eliza Haywood and Jane Austen, have somewhat fallen from favor.

This guy really need to play Brainage, it really is a great game, need a PSP port though. Final Fantasy series taught me how to read roman numerals, and after a couple generations of Unreal and Quake have sharpened my reflexes too, on top of that, i always now when someones behind me. Ive aslo done A+ worthy history reports off of the Call of Duty series. When the game developers know what there doing, (and in Infinity Wards case with CoD, do the correct historical research) gaming can become suprisingly educational.
I mean, every one knows about D-Day but who knew that Rangers needed to scale a 3 story tall cliff to destroy fixed artillery placement (which at the time were gone and had to be sought after) that could jepordize (sp?) D-Day... there ya go, learned something new.

I agree, has he even played a video game, does he know that video games actually do increase your concious reaction time and hand-eye coordination. He apparently hasnt done his research. Most people play video games to get away from reality and spark their imagination and creativity. The video game industry has given jobs to many people with high paying salaries. Video games are sometimes actually helpful in many cases.

what would he say to the fact that final fantasy ( the first one) helped me with my reading while I was young

"These machines teach (children) nothing. They stimulate no ratiocination, discovery or feat of memory - though some of them may cunningly pretend to be educational."

Try playing Zelda and then come talk to me about how games don't offer a sense of discovery.

Anyway, this is just another dumbass politician jumping aboard the anti-game train. People who blame poor literacy rates on video games aren't connected with reality.

Because no one ever does any reading in RPGs. *sigh* Hell, the argument probably works the same for movies, until you realize there's a Subtitle option on most DVDs nowadays. Seriously, this guy needs to be beaten across the head with a copy of Phoenix Wright. Not only could he learn a thing or two about law, but he'll learn that this game really makes you think. And read. And remember. And puzzlesolve.

But seriously, this guy makes it seem like a little funtime that isn't being wasted instead of being used for 'education' is a bad thing. I bet this guy thinks that recess in schools is a bad thing too. *sigh*

me no unliterate person 'cause of vidya games. i unliterate 'cause me teacher not like to teach very much. me always on internet instead of reading stuff. me no like Boris Johnson hypothesis.

Partying, texting/calling, hanging out, internet, homework, television, sports. You can also blame these in addition to video games if you really want to understand why children have no desire to read these days. Yet again, another wannabe Jack tries to single out video games as the cause of societies problems.

The red soldiers robotically slaughtered the white soldiers, and then they did it again, that was it.

He's got a point. If it were truly historical, it would have been followed by the white soldiers slaughtering the red soldiers, to avenge their earlier slaughter, and then the red soldiers would once more have slaughtered the white soldiers, while shouting the "medieval Viking" equivalent of "Remember the Alamo!"

On the other hand, this is just another rant by an ignorant person scared of what he doesn't understand. Video games make our kids stupid, rock music turns them into devil worshippers, and the novel will lead to the downfall of civilization.


I am amused by the notion that videogames cause illiteracy, considering I learned to read Japanese largerly from playing Japanese RPGs. Fact is, you need a solid reading comprehension to get anything out of a great deal of games. Other than that, this man knows nothing about games. I wonder if he's ever heard of Civilization.

Beyond that, I wonder what "I don't like reading" stands for, specifically? What was the precise question and in what context was it asked? if this is another panic attack about how the youth doesn't read literature, well, that is sad and all, and I think it's probable and perfectly logical to assume that games are one reason for that, but why not blame television and movies while you're at it?

Here's a jewel from a comment on his website:

"They drain children of an imagination and help the boundaries of right and wrong become blurred."

Just cause children don't like to read doesn't mean they can't read. I know I hated reading growing up. All the books were boring. Then D&D and Final Fantasy hit me and and couldn't get enough to read. Also games teaching nothing not even memory skills. This guys need to play a game cause if all else the game teaches you memory, to this day most games rely on knowing when baddies will pop out, where the good cars are parked, where to find the health powerup, etc.

Um, from a "games in education" point of view, this is a good thing. People outside the UK may be unaware that Boris is a largely self-created joke figure, tolerated by his party and liked mainly because he's a reactionary buffoon.

There's a TV programme called "Have I Got News for You" where he is a periodic presenter, mainly so he can come out with crazy statements and be the butt of humour for his ignorance. He plays up the reactionary angle for effect.

He's amusing, but no-one outside a few doddery Tories takes him seriously. Remember the slogan: "Boris Johnson is the person to lead this country back into the 17th century!"

Cue also the last Conservative party conference, where he was chased down the street by journalists demanding he say something controversial.

Two things caused the rise of 'illiteracy' as percieved by many people in the UK.

1) The original habit of mobile texting services to charge by the letter. This helped created the 'Txt-spk' mentality that stuck with people long after it should have died out because of reason 2.

2) Txt-Spk was originally the domain of the priviged few who used Teletype or other communication devices, the language is actually decades old. However, as the domain of the few, it wasn't nearly as annoying as it is nowadays. It's become a problem because of the fact that people are growing up thinking that this is a correct way to spell and because teachers and politicians make such a huge drama out of the whole thing, rather than simply teaching the kids the correct way to spell.

If there's anyone in this country responsible for poor spelling or literacy, it biols down to the education system, not the kids, not the computer or the mobile-phone, you have to get those foundations firmly in place, otherwise the whole house comes falling down.

Personally, I'm an avid gamer, I'm also reading the translation of Homers' Odyssey, I'm a pretty voracious reader, I read the last Terry Pratchett book in two sittings (and within 48 hours). So I don't know where this guy gets his ideas from, but he'd be better off looking at our underfunded, unstaffed, undersupported and overworked teaching system first.

And yes, I wrote biols instead of boils in my last post. Sue me :p

Wow, I didn't realize the UK had slashed classtimes to allow kids to play more video games. What? They didn't? They're still using curriculae that is considered adequate? So this guy is saying that UK education is inadequate?

I think the whole rant to: I don't understand kids these days, I don't see why they need all of these new-fangled gizmos, and I'm afraid of technology. This is called the Generation Gap. It's been around longer than video games, I'm afraid.

On the less critical side, his rant is an opinion piece, so don't take it as fact. He really should be able to express his opinion. I think he has missed the news on how lack of sleep and proper nutrition affects learning.

I wonder one thing. Why do games even need to teach you anything? I play games because it is a hobby. I don't see any reason why every hobby needs to be educational. Nowadays, we are living in a society where a lot of people think that everything you do needs to be for the greater good of society. It seems that there is a huge taboo on doing something because you think it is fun. Not everything in my life should be about educating myself.

If this person thinks that children don't read enough, schools should put a focus on language skills instead of just math. Let them focus more on oral bookreports. At least that way the children have to actually read the book, instead of being able to use a written report that they download from the internet.

Ha ha ha ha... classic. Ol' Boris gets involved in the whole 'video games' scene, and once again like everything else he talks about, he stuffs it up completely.

He is one of the funniest people you're ever likely to see, but not for the right reasons. He doesn't mean to be funny, he just comes across that way because of all his complete screw ups.

If anyone wants a laugh (and to see how pathetic our 'leaders' can be) then google a bit of Boris into your day. If you can, get hold of some of his appearances on a TV show called 'Have I Got News For You' where he proves to be the floppy haired dimwit he appears to be.

I just hope he joins forces with Keith Vaz, then the video game industry and fans will really have something to laugh about...


To be fair to Boris, he's usually sincere. He may be an idiot, but he's an idiot with his own opinions rather than a bandwagon jumper.

It can't be right that the Playstation and XBox caused this illiteracy when the Commodore Amiga, Sega Megadrive, the NES, the C64 and the Atari 2600 didn't. Video games aren't as new an invention as people like to think.

On the other hand, he does make a good point, and then follows it to completely the wrong conclusion. That was "Everything was programmed, spoon-fed, immediate…". Far too many games are pretty mindless. Too many studios just want to churn out formulaic clones of established concepts rather than encourage thought and strategy. I'd love to see more emphasis on promoting more thoughtful games (which would probably include the example Boris gave).

Ages 7-15? Good to see he did his research.

I just read the artical on his web site and i must say, I think I just lost a few IQ points reading that. It's not just the fact that he has no idea what hes talking about that makes me upset. It's the fact that he acts like computers and video games are a form of plauge that is slowly killing our youth. Maybe the reasion that kids today dont want to read is that the books are just uninteresting, Or they really are a chore. Who really want to read a book about a angsty teenager when you your self are an angsty teenager. Then you have to wright a long drawn out essay on some chapter about what it ment to me and the symbolism of some obscure item in the chapter. If i'm gona read, I'd want the book to be imaginitive and exciting. Not something I'm going to expereance just by steping out side.

Apologies to the Yanks (and indeed anyone who isn't British) who don't really 'get' Boris. No one really listens to him and everyone in Britain knows he is a rambling old fool, but we consider him a national treasure, much like how you lot let Jimmy Carter out of his pen once in a while to utter complete nonsense.

This makes you wonder if the politicians can actually read what they wrote and see how stupid they sound.

Of course you have to take these comments with the knowledge that Boris is really the political equivalent of a lovable buffoon. Gaming since the age of 5 got me interested in programming, something that requires learning mathematics, logic and grammar, albeit not entirely English grammar. In turn this got me a decent paid job using my brain.

I should be pointed out to Boris that one of the top selling games of 2006 was 'Brain Training' and that there ARE realistic and helpful options for parents to buy their kids educational as well as entertaining software. (Incidentally, I bought the Brain Training for my 7 year old niece this Christmas and within 5 minutes she was happily playing sudoku)

Isn't he the same guy who claimed the New Guinea embassy was hosting "orgies of cannibalism"? The guy's a loon.

All I can say to this is that the biggest complaint I hear from parents about GBA, DS, (some of the best selling games period) and some other console games is the sheer amount of reading - let me repeat that - READING required. It's a complaint, btw, because parents often buy some of the clearly kid safe stuff for a 4-6 year-old not realizing that they're going to have to sit in the backseat of the car during a trip and read the game to their kids.

I actually sell this as a plus because, hey, reading a game to your kid and reading a book to your kid really amounts to the same thing in most cases. I'm saying this part as a writer of kid's fiction.

I know this is just one example, and doesn't really reflect the masses, but of my friends, I'm an "average" gamer, and yet I read more books than most of my friends who haven't touched a console since high school.

Perhaps gaming is cutting into education, but so does anything. I used to skip homework to read my fantasy books. My friend would be glued to the TV, and another friend would spend all his time at the rink practicing for the hockey tournament... And yet all three of us got decent marks...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

Educational? You want to speak educational? I didn't know much about World War 2 before playing games about it, and I learned a thing or two. Not only that, but playing World War 2 games made me more interested and I went onto Wikipedia and other sites to read about it.

Same goes for Age of Empires and a few others.

This guy is a joke.

Gawd forbid this guy go on about movies. You could easily convert his arguments to watching TV or movies... And they'd still be just as meaningless.

Kids aren't playing games in the classroom, so if kids aren't learning, maybe you should try looking there first. THEN focus on why the parents aren't instilling a good work ethic in their kids to get the homework done...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

Ah good old borris, he's no stranger to tabloid controversey as hes been doing it since before he was an MP. I laughed my arse off just after he'd been cheating on his wife and it came out in public. Hed just been riding his bike and got back home when a bunch of reporters jumped him outside his home. He tried to fob them off and go into his house but his wife locked him outside with all the reporters lol.

anyway if any of you americans who are getting riled up over his comments want to see why us brits are just laughing at him there's a nice early clip of him on youtube wich goes some of the way to explaining why.

I convinced my mom to get me the original Final Fantasy because of all the reading. I also got hooked on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by playing Dynasty Warriors. Now unfortunatley most of the home consoles have spoken parts so reading isn't as important, but like Gamer Dad was saying- GBA & DS Games have tons of reading in the games.

Boris' first ten seconds of playing against Germany in a charity England Legends vs Germany Legends football match.

I'm surprised he can still talk, with his foot shoved that far down his throat. This is like the drunken ramblings of Mel Gibson, only instead of being anti-semetic he's a player hater.

So this guy is like the British counterpart of Jack Thompson, except unlike us, nobody over there actually listens to him?

What a crazy world we live in.

Wow. If I'm illiterate, then where did this degree in English come from?

Sounds like a typichal boring tory git.

Though most members of the conservaives are boing old farts who need to lighten up


Nah Boris is nothing like JT... Except for the part about nobody listening to him. He's just A) a tory, and B) laughable - so no-one really cares what he says.

He's such a fool, why did the Tories make him Minister for Higher Education, were they trying to be ironic?


Considering how the Cdn government put a pro-industry, anti-environment guy in charge of the Dept of the Environment... Yes, governments do ironic stuff like that all the time. ;)

Ministers in charge of Dept's rarely have any eduction/qualifications in relation to the department itself. Ministers set policy based on what will get the government elected next time. Those who actually know what they're doing (usually) are the ones working IN the department. Politicians come and go, but civil servants get all the work done...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

Yawn. I've been a gamer since I was about 6 years old, and I read books almost daily, and I did even through my prime video game years. foConversely, my sister who has no interest in video games at all rarely reads for pleasure.

Just another wild claim with no scientific basis. If you really wanted to blame anything on the per-generation decrease in reading as a pleasure activity, you should probably look more toward television and film, though even they are not to blame.

And I don't know about you, but I sure learned a lot from video games. I learned the princess is always in another castle, that red things hate blue things and vice versa, and that you can jump on turtles and then kick them into other turtles. Assuming the turtles arent mutated ninjas, of course.

Easy solution.... just force all games, movies, and tv shows to have captions/subtitles. That way kids will read without even realizing that it's happening.

Sneaky, eh?

FIRSTLY: It's not of Boris Johnson's business what other people's kids do with their free time. I would have thought a "conservative" would accept this, but I guess not. Personally I think rugby is a primitive and dangerous exercise in macho hormonal dysfunction, but I don't go telling the British public their kids shouldn't be allowed to play it.

SECONDLY: There are more adult gamers than child gamers. What they do with their spare time is none of Boris Johnson's business, and none of the government's business so long as it harms no non-consenting parties.

THIRDLY: Boris Johnson obviously has a vastly inflated opinion of himself. The market speaks for itself... Video games are a massive industry which only keeps growing in popularity. But no... screw the millions of gamers in Britain, Boris Johnson's opinion, which he formulated by watching someone else play one unnamed video game, is infinitely more important than the economics. Again, I would have expected this idiocy of a neo-liberal or social democrat - not a conservative.

FOURTHLY: Britain's pathetic public education system and welfare state is the primary reason for the nation's kids being so ignorant. Stop trying to scapegoat your problems and do something about it.

What about the seven million active subscribers (a bunch of which are kids) playing WoW.

The game not only simulates an actual market place, but was involved in a study on how MMO's galvanize task oriented strategy in kids, which is an important factor in living thats rarely ever taught at a young age.

Lets not forget that you cant really play WoW if you cant read quests and communicate effectively with others.

For god sake, somone scored a top job in finance because he put his guild leading history on his resume.

Lastly, dont forget about the endless numbers of RPG's and RTS's like Civilization and Kessen.

So apparently video games are now to blame for the failings of the british education system. Damn.


Most games require lots and lots of reading.


Especially Phoenix Wright.

Comment on his site from myself:

Dr. Mr. Johnson

The very idea that anyone, let alone an elected representative of the people of great britain, would make such idiotic and baseless statements is just sickening to me.

That you would blame the failings of the british education system on what is after all, just another form of entertainment, is crass, opportunistic, and irresponsible.

What is worse, while doing so, you have referenced no actual research or data of any kind, and have instead simply drawn a completely random correlation between two things. Where is your evidence that the rise in illiteracy has any connection to video games, or is it supposed to be pefectly obvious to all educated peoples, as it is to you? What is obvious is your complete ignorance of the subject.

I think I will go ahead and say the there is a clear link between the rise of new technology, and the growing incompentence of our elected officials. My conclusion has just as much basis as yours.

For shame, sir.
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