Youth Work and Gaming: The Journey Begins

For anyone who doesn’t know, I am moving to Ireland next week and beginning a new role researching the role of video games in Youth Work, specifically how games can be used to engage socially isolated young people.

I am extremely excited about taking on this new role. It is becoming increasingly apparent to Youth Workers and to society at large that video games are increasingly influential within youth culture and the experience of adolescents.

YouTube LogoThe influence of video games and gaming culture amongst young people is very pervasive, with young people watching three times as much online content as they do Television. As a Youth Worker, I discovered that asking young people their favourite TV show or movie was becoming increasingly irrelevant. Instead, the question ‘who is your favourite Youtuber?‘ gave a far more telling and relevant insight into their personality and what mattered to them. Within these conversations, I discovered that a large percentage of young people were watching game related media.

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I believe one of the reasons for Youtube’s increasing influence amongst young people is that many Youtubers are ‘young people’ themselves. A unique experience of young people in this generation is that for the first time they have the ability to create and publish their own media. An overwhelming majority of this content relates to gaming specifically.


In existing literature, the role of ‘play’ in young people discovering their identities and boundaries is well established.  For contemporary young people, they are conducting large amounts of ‘play’ digitally, with little distinction between ‘on-and-offline’. Young people no longer ‘go online’, rather being ‘online’ is a completely normalised part of human life. For the emerging generation, the internet and social media has always existed; their parents may even have met via online dating or through Facebook connections.

It would be easy to assume these young people are ‘digitally native’, however research conducted by Carnegie UK Trust has found that many young people lack technical skills and remain ‘digitally excluded’ in a society where digital engagement has become a prerequisite for many opportunities. These ‘digitally excluded’ young people can be susceptible to grooming, cyber bullying and may be disadvantaged by an economy overly fixated on digital skills.

Youth Work is a person-centred practice that seeks to understand young people within their own frame of reference. It is important that Youth Workers listen to the experiences and seek to understand the social world of young people, including the importance digital life and gaming has for them. This is the world of contemporary young people and Youth Workers must work to engage young people in this space, using video games and other digital methods as a tool to begin conversation in the same way that Youth Workers historically (and still do) use pool tables and tuck shops.

Attitudes towards gaming and digital engagement amongst young people are completely different to those held by previous generations. Amongst children, adolescents and young adults up to 30, video games are not frowned upon but seen as acceptable, normal forms of entertainment and social media as a ‘normal’ form of communication. Youth Work must understand the changing means of communication whilst remaining aware to these same trends implications for youth mental health. Youth Work has a strong track record in supporting young people and overcoming barriers to social inclusion, but modern social conventions have created complex new barriers.

The affects of modern technology on young people are complex and new, with the implications only now beginning to make themselves known. I believe this is timely and important research, my hope is that in some way I will be able to help other Youth Workers respond appropriately to the needs of young people. On my Twitter feed and through this blog, I will share thoughts and resources in how to engage with young people in the digital and gaming realms. I hope that this will be a ‘two-way’ conversation, and I am really keen to converse with other practitioners as we seek to better understand and support ‘digitally influenced’ young people.


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