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New Study Shatters Stereotypes About Teens and Video Games

Major New Study Shatters Stereotypes About Teens and Video Games

Game playing is universal, diverse, often involves social interaction, and can cultivate teen civic engagement

September 16, 2008

Digital Media & Learning, Press Releases

(Washington, DC) ? The first national survey of its kind finds thatvirtually all American teens play computer, console, or cell phonegames and that the gaming experience is rich and varied, with asignificant amount of social interaction and potential for civicengagement. The survey was conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a project of the Pew Research Center, and was supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

The primary findings in the survey of 1,102 youth ages 12-17 include:

Game playing is universal, with almost all teens playing games and at least half playing games on a given day.

  • 97% of American teens ages 12-17 play some kind of video game.
  • 99% of boys say they are gamers and 94% of girls report that they play games.

Game playing experiences are diverse, with the most populargames falling into the racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventurecategories.

  • A typical teen plays at least five different categories of games and 40% of them play eight or more different game types.
  • While some teens play violent video games, those who play violent games generally also play non-violent games.

Game playing is social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time.

  • 76% of gaming teens play games with others at least some of the time.
  • 82% play games alone at least occasionally, though 71% of this group also plays games with others.
  • 65% of gaming teens play with others in the same room.

Game playing can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.

  • 76% of youth report helping others while gaming.
  • 44% report playing games where they learn about a problem in society.

Game playing sometimes involves exposure to mature content, withalmost a third of teens playing games that are listed as appropriateonly for people older than they are.

  • 32% of youth 12-16 in this sample play games that are listed as appropriate only for people older than they are.
  • 32% of gaming teens report that at least one of their favorite games is rated Mature or Adults Only.
  • 12-14 year olds are equally as likely to play Mature and Adults Only rated games as their 15-17 year old counterparts.

?The stereotype that gaming is a solitary, violent, anti-socialactivity just doesn?t hold up. The average teen plays all differentkinds of games and generally plays them with friends and family bothonline and offline,? said Amanda Lenhart, author of a report on thesurvey and a Senior Research Specialist with the Pew Internet &American Life Project, which conducted the survey. ?Gaming is aubiquitous part of life for both boys and girls. For most teens, gamingruns the spectrum from blow-?em-up mayhem to building communities; fromcute-and-simple to complex; from brief private sessions to hours? longinteractions with masses of others.?

A focus of the survey was the relationship between gaming and civicexperiences among teens. The goal was to test concerns that gamingmight be prompting teens to withdraw from their communities. It turnsout there is clear evidence that gaming is not just an entertainingdiversion for many teens; gaming can be tied to civic and politicalengagement. Indeed, youth have many experiences playing games thatmirror aspects of civic and political life, such as thinking aboutmoral and ethical issues and making decisions about city and/orcommunity affairs. Not only do many teens help others or learn about aproblem in society during their game playing, they also encounter othersocial and civic experiences:

  • 52% of gamers report playing games where they think about moral and ethical issues.
  • 43% report playing games where they help make decisions about how a community, city or nation should be run.
  • 40% report playing games where they learn about a social issue.

Moreover, the survey indicates that youth who have these kinds ofcivic gaming experiences are more likely to be civically engaged in theoffline world. They are more likely than others are to go online to getinformation about current events, to try to persuade others how to votein an election, to say they are committed to civic participation, andto raise money for charity.

?We need to focus less on how much time kids spend playing videogames and pay more attention to the kinds of experiences they havewhile playing them,? noted Prof. Joseph Kahne, Director of the Civic Engagement Research Groupat Mills College, and co-author of the report. ?Games that simulateaspects of civic and political life may well promote civic skills andcivic engagement. Youth, parents, teachers, and others who work withyouth should know about the wide diversity of video games ? so they cantake full advantage of games and their civic potential.?

The study also found that these civic gaming experiences occurredequally among all kinds of game players regardless of family income,race, and ethnicity. These data stand in contrast to teens? experiencesin schools and others community situations, where white andhigher-income youth typically have more opportunities for civicdevelopment.

?Digital media and specifically games are a robust part of the livesof young people,? explains Connie Yowell, Director of Education at theMacArthur Foundation, which is funding a $50 million initiative to helpdetermine how digital media are changing how young people learn, play,socialize, and participate in civic life. ?This study offers us aglimpse into the potential of these new tools to foster learning andcivic engagement, yet the findings about mature content suggest thatparents and other adults need to be involved in young people?s gameplay, helping to realize the potential benefits while moderatingunintended consequences. We see these results as the beginning of animportant discussion about the role of digital media in learning,community, and citizenship in the 21st century.?

The Mills College Civic Engagement Research Group has also separately issued a white paper (PDF)that looks in a more detailed way at the civics findings and providesimplications for parents, educators, game designers and others relatedto the civic potential of video game play.

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o yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes . . . the whole world is changing with the most amazing new learning technologies ever and education changes only a little around the peripheries and not always in the best way. that's one big reason why HASTAC was invented . . . it's not about IT, it is about reconceiving what learning should be and could be and can be. I must admit I don't get it. NO ONE would have predicted a Wikipedia could happen, that millions of people would want to contribute information and ideas, without remuneration, without credit, simply to expand the data base of the world's knowledge . . . Amazing to contemplate as an educator. But we haven't grasped it, haven't let it sink in to our concept of education and educator, our ideas about learning, our sense of our mission. Except for people like you and so many others who are quietly thinking about this change. Good luck with it all, Lynn, and thanks for all you do.


I discovered that Skype is not blocked at my high school! I powered up my laptop to work on a report, and immediately received a text message from my sister, who lives in Turkey with her husband, an ex-engineer turned minister, and their four kids.

The new assistant principal discovered this out, too, and thinks we should figure out ways to use Skype at school.


What's wrong with this picture? That you have to be hush-hush about an amazing technology that could literally open the windows onto the world for your students. If this book I'm writing on cognition and digitality does anything, I hope it inspires parents and teachers to change this lock-down anti-technology hysteria in our schools. It's crazy. The FBI says school-shooters "play video games." Well, duh. If the Pew survey shows 97% of all teens in the US between 12-17 play video games, then,well, it's likely that even some really disturbed kids do. But we're no longer talking about a "social problem" that needs to be cured. We are talking about a changed environment. Good luck with all you do, Lynn. I feel so grateful that there are teachers like you out there.