Sixth-formers to study violent computer games

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The Independent Online

Sixth-formers will be able to play violent computer games in the classroom from September - with the blessing of their teachers.

The Oxford and Cambridge and RSA exam board (OCR) is introducing an option for its AS-level media studies course, the study of "conflict and competition in computer/video games".

Peter Fraser, a senior examiner with OCR and head of media studies at Long Road sixth-form college, Cambridge, acknowledged at a conference of academics that its introduction would be controversial.

"This is a kind of recognition of the importance of video games as a medium in today's world," Mr Fraser said. One of the games set to be studied, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - a pastiche of the 1980s television series Miami Vice - broke all sales records for computer games when it was produced.

Players take on the role of a gangster, fresh from the airport and looking to rise up the criminal ranks - achieved by completing missions such as car-jackings and assassinations for local crime lords.

"One of the reasons so many students opt for media studies is because students enjoy it because it is relevant to today's world," Mr Fraser said.

"I would think the likelihood is that only a few centres will do it at first. Teachers won't want to dip their toes in the way because they'll be less confident about using computer games in the classroom than their students. However, those that have done say they have learnt a lot about their students and their capabilities. It is a two-way learning process.

"Inevitably, anything connected with media studies is often greeted by, 'How can that be educational?' But the students can become very engaged with it."

Other options in the course include "celebrity and the tabloid press", "music culture and radio", "gender and television situation comedy" and "consumerism and lifestyle magazines".

Mr Fraser said: "Our cultural obsession with celebrities also sparks an interest amongst students. They can analyse why photographs have been taken in particular ways, for instance."

The introduction of the new material is bound to provoke criticism from right-wing academics who will claim it is a "dumbing down" of exam standards. Supporters of the new exam will argue that it will allow students to express themselves better in their writing because they are writing on topics that interest them.

The OCR is the only exam board to pioneer the new option. In the exam, students will be asked to write a single essay on whichever of the five topics they have studied. The topic accounts for 30 per cent of the marks and requires about 25 hours of teaching.