Digital Playgrounds: young gamers and critical thinking

Key points by Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi

Many adults believe that teenagers playing video games is a pleasant but meaningless way of spending free time. But for many young people games have become the most important part of their media ecosystem, a space in which they learn critical thinking and media literacy. Such skills will prove crucial in their future and will allow them to handle the surplus of information provided by the media, separate valuable information from fake news, and make informed choices of their own; all thanks to spending long hours playing video games.

There is a narrative which associates many dangers with media literacy, however we should counter that narrative by first examining and discussing media illiteracy. Media illiteracy is the idea that people consume media with just the surface level interest of being entertained. Media literacy, on the other hand, can vary by culture. For example, in the U.S. media literacy can mean information literacy, referring to how well one understands the information being presented, not necessarily an understanding of digital media. While in Europe, the terms “media” and “information literacy” are often conflated. Being “media literate” means to reflect and consider the meaning behind the information one consumes every day. If we are more considerate of what we see, it is likely that we will more consciously build the skills we need to think critically about the media. Yet, this is a lifelong process that begins with the youth.

A crucial problem associated with digital playgrounds is that children are bombarded with information; promotions, political opinions, and advertising, to name a few. The concern is that being exposed to an abundance of information can influence a child’s decision-making skills, as they do not have the capacity to think critically about what they are seeing. It can be difficult to see the underlying ideological narratives presented in video games, especially those portraying historical and political issues.

To address these concerns, parents and guardians should have conversations with their children about what they are seeing and ask why they chose to play their games. All forms of media can have valuable messages, even video games, and engaging in a constant dialogue with children about this media will give them the tools to make informed choices of their own in the future. Despite the negatives associated with digital playgrounds, there are a variety of video games and what we may not see is how these games require a high level of strategy and analysis which can be of great value to the development of critical thinking skills. To be successful critical thinkers, children first need to understand what their game is asking from them. Educators can help in this endeavor by the teaching kids the process of critical thinking from the time they start school. Moreover, we must remember that video games can be a useful tool of reflection and sometimes banning them without explanation can be disconcerting for kids. It is important to recognize that media is created by people who have a point a view and are being paid to portray that point of view and it is our responsibility to engage with children and raise their awareness.

Watch the discussion:

Sherri Hope Culver, Director of the Center for Media and Information Literacy (CMIL) at Temple University, USA

Pawel Schreiber, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of English Literatures at Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland

Jakub Zgierski, Creator and manager of Games for Impact — an international festival of purposeful games based in Warsaw, Poland

This event was co-organized by Games for Impact, FINA, Indie Games Poland Foundation, Digital Communication Network (South East Europe HUB) and World Learning and is part of DCNSEE’s Ideas in Action — Digital Engagement, a series of virtual events launched in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. DCN is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Citizen Exchanges.

Games for Impact is an international festival showcasing purposeful video games that reach beyond entertainment.

Digital Communication Network created in 2015, is a 7.000 member strong collaborative network that connects professionals from a variety of fields and different regions of the world, committed to have an impact in the new information space. is an international association connecting professionals of the digital age to generate ideas, tools, products for media, NGO & government