Twenty-five per cent of teenagers would be prepared to steal a computer game if they could not afford it, according to a study to be presented at the BSA conference.
Just over a quarter of the teenagers said that they found it difficult to stop playing the games.
The study, conducted by Ken Parsons, senior lecturer in sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, involved interviews with 61 teenagers in a youth club and further education college in Crewe and Dundee.
The youth club did not have any computers, so Dr Parsons avoided the trap of interviewing only the most dedicated players, as would be the case in games halls. Nevertheless, he found that 70 per cent of the study group owned their own computers, and not one of the remaining 30 per cent said that they did not want to own one. "I was surprised because the teenagers in this cohort were not affluent - most of their parents were in low-income jobs," he says.
Dr Parsons's study, which also involved a review of existing research, outlines three areas of concern around computer games.
First, they take children away from outdoor sports and could therefore have a bad effect on their health and are addictive. Some 90,000 youngsters a year seek help for addictions to gambling, and the games pose a new snare.
Second, they are expensive and at about Pounds 40 a time many parents feel it is impossible to satisfy their children's demands. Dr Parsons found that a quarter of the teenagers in the study would steal to overcome this problem.
Third, the games can be viewed as racist, sexist and classist. Dr Parsons found that although 92 per cent of the females said they enjoyed the more whimsical, less aggressive games, and their preferred character was Sonic the Hedgehog, 82 per cent of the 35 males he talked to enjoyed the violence and aggression in most games. Their favourite games included Mortal Combat and Heavyweight Champ.
"I am not advocating that such games be banned," he says. "But parents and those involved in working with young people need to be more alive to the dangers they pose."