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.


"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. "

And why do you assume that games cannot be education while being fun? Frell, when I was a kid I made it a point to read the Civlopedia text (and later Centaripedia) for whatever technology my little Vikings(or Peacekeepers) had discovered in Civ II(or Alpha Centauri).
Knowing the (albeit condensed) history behind humanity’s discovery and use of that advancement made me feel even better about having chosen to research it(e.g. the game was more fun for me).

If John Boris is reading this, I'd like to remind the douchebag he forgot 16+ year-olds. And it would also appear we have a better grasp on capitalization than he does (second paragraph)...

I am going to try typing this comment with my eyes closed, starting in the next paragraph:

I don't think that this guy has any creidibility. He clearly has no experience with games and he's apparently a laughable guy in the UK. I could go on and on, but everybody has already said everything that needs to be said, so I don't think that I could add much except that I am very literate and currently typing with muy eyes closed. I'm pretty sure that my typos are minimal.

Well, HEY! Looks like I only messed up once! Those darn games, if only I hadn't played them I wouldn't have accidentally hit two keys at once that one time!

Sorry to post over and over again, but I just realized when I read his website that he's blaming the wrong agent for the correct reasons. He seems to be complaining that boys hate to do book-related assignments in school (e.g. book analysis and reports). I haven't read any studies to this effect, but it seems to be a natural notion that if two things go hand-in-hand that the brain affiliates them as a group. More specifically, schools attach work to book-reading, so children affiliate reading with work. That's it.

The solution is not to eradicate video games; that was never mentioned in my analysis. It might be something chosen preferentially over something affiliated with work, but it is not the cause of illiteracy. The correct solution is not even to stop the book reports and analysis. I have always hated those, but they are necessary nonetheless. The best answer is to find some way of making that particular work more enjoyable. I am not going to delve too deeply into that prospect right now, since any ideas I come up with would never become concrete. I'm sure that British school employees are not reading GamePolitics. However, the idea of giving kids some sort of reward for their work or perhaps making the work itself the reward should be considered.

Old Codger begins his rant:

I can't believe kids today, growing up and graduatin' school without being able to read. In my day, if a kid couldn't read he was held back until he could. Now we got these dang videohoochamawhatsis, teachers can't teach no more!

Serously, how does a kid slip through a "functionining" school system without being able to read.

I will agree with this politician on one thing. There is nothing educational, ratiocinational, and involves no discovery or feat of memory about WATCHING an 11 year old play a videogame.

"On the 28th of December 2006 Johnson wrote a comment piece in The Telegraph[10] turning his attention to computer games. In it he wrote "Some children have it bad. Some are miraculously unaffected. But millions of seven- to 15-year-olds are hooked, especially boys, and it is time someone had the guts to stand up, cross the room and just say no to Nintendo. It is time to garrotte the Game Boy and paralyse the PlayStation, and it is about time, as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and the prospects of young males." He went on to say "We get on with our hedonistic 21st-century lives while in some other room the nippers are bleeping and zapping in speechless rapture, their passive faces washed in explosions and gore. They sit for so long that their souls seem to have been sucked down the cathode ray tube." The bit about souls and cathode ray tubes is a typical quote from Boris. The comments started getting wider coverage a week after the initial publication increasing the chance of a response from concerned parties similar to that in some of the above examples."

From wikipedia

Yay, let's judge al of literature by watching someone read, let's say, Lord of the Rings.
Because you learn so much of it. Like, um, hobbit culture - oh, waitaminit...

This all is a complete overestimation of the importance of books as well as a complete underestimization of videogames. Funny how this woul mathematically fuse into mediocrity.
Piece of personal opinion btw: What is so important about being literate in a world where books may very soon no longer be a significant way of telling stories?

Boris is a fun little guy, and he does have a point to an extent, before you all shout at me let me explain. :D

First, the English schooling system is a pile of steaming horse dung. Having worked with and around kids here for the last 2 years, it really makes me angry to see how much they are spoon fed at school.
Second, kids that are a product of this schooling system NEVER read anything if they can help it, and so will skip past any narrative in the games they play just to get to the action.

So Boris is probably right that most kids don't learn a lot from games, except for hand-eye coordination, spacial awareness, and maybe if they have the patience for RTS, some tactical forethought. But these are not things that can be easily seen, and of course kids that don't like a metal challenge are going to ignore the more complex games.

In short what Boris sees is not the course but the symptom. I myself learnt a hell of a lot of history from some games, and some science. And this made me want to find out more.

My 6yo son loves to play video games...spends more time playing video games than I feel he should, but then I spend countless hours logged into Guild Wars every week, so I'm one to talk.

I used to read the text on the screen to him when he was younger. He has now been old enough to read it on his own for quite some time. And the games he plays require quite a bit of reading to understand what is going on, what you are supposed to do, and at times even just to play.

He loves books, loves to read. Favorite place to go is the bookstore. We read to him (and his younger sister) every night, and have done so since they were born.

At school, his class is learning subtraction. At home, I'm teaching him multiplication and algebra. Not only is he very good at it, he enjoys it a lot and is constantly badgering me for more math problems to solve.

So aside from bragging, what is my point? It's not the videogames, you pompous snob. Maybe you should take a look at the parents. If we say it enough, someone is bound to pick up on it, yes?

I know my kids are much smarter than I was at their age (I was most definitely not figuring out algebra in 1st grade). But they also play a hell of a lot more videogames than I ever did at their age, too.

Just a copy & paste of my comment from his website:

"No, Mr. Johnson, it is about time you should learn values of human righths, freedom of choice and tolerance, as this article is no more than an uneducated and uninsightful attack on those. The main purpose of video games is for people to entertain themselves, and people always had a need for entertainment to relax themselves (ever heard of Roman phrase "Panem et circenses"? - while Romans enjoyed Gladiator fights, today we have more civilized forms on amusement, like sports, arts, even computer and console games). However, entertainment has always been a thorn in eyes of authocrats, as it doesn't help them spread fear in people they rely so much upon. So whenever a new form of entertainment is introduced, such authocrats will do their best to invalidate, or even outlaw it - football, television, rock music - they all in their early days had a very hard time getting their place under The Sun.

However, this isn't only about entertainment but about intolerance, because politicans, pragmatic as they are, don't want to promote differences in people as they don't need votes from everyone, only from majority. That's why I call Mr. Johnson's text as intolerance - it's no better than spreading racial or religous hatred, the only difference being it is targeted at different minority. Unfortunately, knowing a difference between good and evil is something people gain empirically, not something they're born with and that's why many people will support his words without being aware they're spreading intolerance. If I wasn't playing games, would that guarantee I would think differently than Mr. Johnson? No, but I have enough experience with them to know his perception is wrong.

Also, why majority of game-haters always perceive them as something only children are interested in (other than to prove how they have abslutely no insight on the matter)? With computer technology being so evolved today, average gamer's age is getting up and up, and I wouldn't be surprised if games become more popular to old people who are in their retirements, as they usually have boring lives. I am aged over 30, I have a university degree, a regular job, but I'm also spending most of my free time by playing games. I don't have any children, but if I had them, I certainly wouldn't forbid them to play games, as long as they are aware some things, like school, are more important (although this could be relativized, as I've seen people gaining more success in life than me with less education, and some people earn for living by making, or even playing games - although the latter is much rarer) and as long they play games suitable for their age (games, just like movies, can have age rating, and even when they have no age restrictions, they might be over-complicated for small children to understand).

Also, not all games can be treated equal, just like a pornographic book cannot be treated same as the one written by Shakespeare - a game could be mindlessly simple, or it could require planning and thinking (for example, Mr. Johnson should've tried the game called "Planescape: Torment" for the greatest amount of text and dialogue in a computer game ever before blaming games for promoting illiteracy) - playing a game of chess or quiz on your computer still qualifies as a game and as such, falls under Mr. Johnson trivial accusations, even though the former promotes thinking and the latter promotes knowledge. But mindless or not, they always fill out one purpose: to entertain. Is watching 22 people on a large grass field running to catch a ball (a.k.a. football) less mindless than sending red soldiers against white soldiers? No, but it still fills than one purpose, so people enjoy it. There's no reason to treat games any different."

Excellent news! When Boris gets behind an idea, the public know it must be bad.

I got to the part where he refers to games as "blasted gizmos" and I almost had to stop reading. I guess I'll cut him some slack since he's british. As I read the article I couldn't help but imagine his voice sounding exactly like Professor Hubert Farnsworth from Futurama.

He nearly broke my brain.

I've learned a grat deal of Mythology from them ore recent Castelvania games.

most of what I know about world War 2 and the cold War came from video games.

I know alot about certain weapons, not how to operate or fire them, but histories and schematics from video games.

I've learned a good deal of my reading from video games.

I've learned to manage my finances from video games.

I've learned a good deal about time management from video games.

And it's clear that video games aren't the problem. Maybe, I dunno, making schoolwork half interesting and less like work?

To reiterate what has been said before, Boris is something of a public figure of ridicule. That's not to say that some people mock him in the same way that they mock other politicians; this guy is invited on TV specifically to have people laugh at him. He's a bit quaint, a bit antiquated, and generally a bit rubbish at getting his point across without sounding like a parody of a British MP.

With regards to what he's saying, rather than the way he's saying it, he's almost right. Almost, but crucially not quite. In my opinion he's right in saying that kids are generally getting worse academically, and he's right in saying that playing computer games isn't going to solve the problem. He's wrong in drawing a link between the two; other things that won't teach children are playing football, building forts out of pillows, and eating crisps. It is the job of the school system and the parents to educate children.

God i love Boris I really do, what you guys on the other said of the pond have to know is that Boris is pretty much thought of as a joke, he only really ever open his mouth to insert his other foot into it.

Try not to take anything he says to serious, the guy is a legend for all the wrong (comic) reasons

good old Boris, how you cheer me up


"Serously, how does a kid slip through a “functionining” school system without being able to read."

Actually, until the 90s, when gaming became more mainstream, that was the case. I'm not sure if this is true for the U.K., but in the U.S. in the 80s huge numbers of people slipped through high school without being able to read. Why do you think the "DON'T WALK" sign was replaced by a little guy? Nobody could read the signs anymore. That's why I find it hilarous when old people say our generation is the least educated.

I know this has been said a million times already, but I just want to add another voice and personal experience to the fray.

My reading is BETTER for having played video games as a child. Video games involve a lot of reading and while more and more games are voice acted these days, there are and will always be games and parts of voice acted games that require reading.

If any kid plays any Zelda or Final Fantasy game, s/he is in for a LOT of reading. I mean, heck... have you read those quest descriptions in World of Warcraft? They're pretty verbose.

Hasn't it been shown in studies that children who play video games are more literate and have better hand-eye coordination? Those studies came out just a few years ago--are they already obsolete? Wish I could cite them properly.

Also, note that Boris Johnson published this article in the "Daily Telegraph", where it sparked a huge debate :

It went so far that the Telegraph went back to that topic on december 30th (my birthday !!).
First, you can read this response by Sam Leigh :
And these other articles :

Sheesh, take a stroll through a Barnes & Noble sometime. There are now book series' based off Myst, Halo (I plowed through Ghosts of Onyx overnight. It was GREAT) Descent, Warcraft, Doom, Perfect Dark (a prequel, no less) Tomb Raider, ect.

While some of them have failed to live up to the storytelling standards of the games they're based off of, many of them succeed in carrying on the intriguing storylines of their source.
I highly recomend
-Halo (Fall of Reach, the Flood, First Strike and Ghosts of Onyx are all exelent)
-Tomb Raider (I liked the Amulet of Power and the Lost Cult, but the Man of Bronze was kind of corny in places IMO)
-Perfect Dark: Initial Vector

Strange.. I was the most avid game player in my school, yet I was scoring higher than the teachers on some of the tests.

If I was doing that, while games were making me into a blasted retard, then how intelligent would I have been without playing games?

WHAT? This is ridiculous. These games don't make people illiterate. I refuse to believe that. What is it with older people? They can't stop blaming everything that happens on video games. Something goes wrong blame video games. A psychopath kills some people blame video games. These people need to stop acting so childish and immature. Politicians are bums and gamers have to step up to stop this CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm way past tired of everything being blamed on my favorite pasttime. I've had it. It makes me SICK TO MY STOMACH. I'M GOING TO THROW UP IF I KEEP WRITING, SO JUST STOP IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think you guys are mostly over-reacting.

Boris is an oddball of the highest calibre but he's pretty harmless; he's one of those "and finally" comedy news stories when he says something utterly stupid (like Prince Philip only not as racist).

Frankly, nobody takes him seriously - even Conservative voters roll their eyes. I'd not be surprised if Boris isn't just playing up his own reputation to extend his fifteen minutes until another Have I Got News For You appearance comes a-calling.

@ Terminator44

That's why I used the term "functioning school system. I am well aware that children are being churned thruogh school without learning anything. This isn't the fault of videogames. It's the fault of a broken education system, and the one here in the USA needs fixing soon.

As for the replacement of the don't walk signs to the pictogram, that was done to accomodate foriegn language speakers. Remember, technically USA has no official language.


"I am well aware that children are being churned thruogh school without learning anything. This isn’t the fault of videogames. It’s the fault of a broken education system, and the one here in the USA needs fixing soon."

So sad. Yet so true.

"As for the replacement of the don’t walk signs to the pictogram, that was done to accomodate foriegn language speakers. Remember, technically USA has no official language."

Hey, nobody said such policies for one reason and one reason only. ;)

I can safely say that after reading that I don't feel illiterate, but I do feel more like a gamer. I'm 15 and I love writing, from journalism to poetry, it's really something I love. I've failed one class so far, and I can say without doubt it was never because of video games distracting me, me merging reality and fantasy, or being illiterate. Never really liked arithmetic and science, I just feel at home with languages and history.

Oh god he's just become mayor.

Give up all hope now...
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Andrew EisenYou're saying the article should be altered to fit a different title. I want to know what title you find more appropriate for the copy as is.07/31/2015 - 2:34pm
benohawkIt would take a minor rewrite to the article, but I'd call it 'What is a Gamer' but go for the same point. you don't have to sell to jerks07/31/2015 - 2:33pm
Andrew EisenI still say "clickbait" is thrown around way too casually, to the point where it's completely meaningless. That aside, what alternate title would you suggest?07/31/2015 - 2:22pm
benohawkt was still delibrate clickait, something I would expect from a Gawker outlet, the article would of likely been much better recieved with a nicer title07/31/2015 - 2:18pm
Andrew EisenProvocative title to be sure but I didn't find it inaccurate or not reflective of its text.07/31/2015 - 2:12pm
benohawkGamasutra shouldn't of gotten clicks for the article until they had published under an accurate name instead of some pathetic clickbaiting07/31/2015 - 2:09pm
benohawkThe title of the article meant that the article was worth ignoring, not launching a massive campaign to try and end the site it was on.07/31/2015 - 2:08pm
Andrew EisenI will Ouija him my unceasing indignation!07/31/2015 - 1:59pm
Infophile@AE: The fact that he's dead does a good job of ensuring he won't hear it.07/31/2015 - 1:59pm
InfophileGood to hear. Just wish everyone offended felt that way07/31/2015 - 1:58pm
Andrew EisenRoger Ebert will never hear the end of my disdain for his I Spit On Your Grave review! - 1:57pm
Big PermI don't support the email campaigns. I wouldn't support a comics venue getting them because of being offended, so it'd be hipocritical for me to do it to those who offend me07/31/2015 - 1:53pm
Infophile(cont'd) if it could be proven, it wouldn't merit anywhere near what Alexander has gone through.)07/31/2015 - 1:49pm
InfophileYeah, we can't prove or disprove it. My beef is with those who use the assumed intent to justify the actions taken against Gamasutra and Alexander. If it can't be proven, it shouldn't be retaliated against like that. (Hell, with how mild this was, even...07/31/2015 - 1:49pm
Andrew EisenNo problem. We just prefer to keep the front page clean.07/31/2015 - 1:43pm
Big PermAndrew- Alright, didn't know before.07/31/2015 - 1:42pm
Andrew EisenBig Perm - Not that big a deal, but do try to refrain from the heavier expletives in the Shout box.07/31/2015 - 1:40pm
Big Perm@ Info. I disagree, but we're just both speculating on intent. Is it possible you're right? Sure, but I don't see you being able convince me by saying she would have offended differently07/31/2015 - 1:40pm
Infophile(cont'd) title with the express purpose of offending non-game-devs? If offense was the goal, the article would have been different.07/31/2015 - 1:35pm
Big PermJust because I think your opinion is poopie, doesn't mean I think you're poopie.07/31/2015 - 1:35pm

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