July 6, 2003

College students and computer, video and Internet games

Chicago (July 6, 2003) — Computer, video and online games are woven into the fabric of everyday life for college students. And, they are more a part of college students’ social lives than many would suspect.

All of the 1,162 students surveyed on 27 campuses by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported they had played a video, computer or online game at one time or another. Fully 65% of college students reported being regular or occasional game players.

Among the more surprising and notable findings:

  • Students cited gaming as a way to spend more time with friends. One out of every five (20%) gaming students felt that gaming helped them make new friends as well as improve existing friendships.
  • Gaming also appears to play a surrogate role for some gamers when friends are unavailable. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of students surveyed agreed that gaming helped them spend time when friends were not available.
  • Close to half (48%) of college student gamers agreed that gaming keeps them from studying “some” or “a lot.” In addition, about one in ten (9%) admitted that their main motivation for playing games was to avoid studying.
  • One third (32%) of students surveyed admitted playing games that were not part of the instructional activities during classes.

    “In some ways electronic games are to this generation what cops ”n” robbers was to an earlier one – everyone plays them, everyone knows them. They are almost an automatic part of what teenagers and college students do for fun and leisure,” said Prof. Steve Jones, Senior Research Fellow of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and principal author of the new report.

    The last few years have been a boom time for the gaming industry. Internet-ready game consoles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft (among others), increasing bandwidth, and computers primed for multimedia, have made gaming an increasingly popular form of entertainment. The gaming industry reported sales of over $6.5 billion in 2002 and the research firm Datamonitor estimates online gaming revenues will reach $2.9 billion by 2005.

    The new Pew Internet Project report shows that college students integrate gaming into their day, taking time between classes to play a game, play a game while visiting with friends or instant messaging, or play games as a brief distraction from writing papers or doing other work. Gaming is integrated into leisure time and placed alongside other entertainment forms in their residence. It forms part of a larger multitasking setting in which college students play games, listen to music and interact with others in the room.

    One surprising finding was that women are more likely than men to be regular players of computer and online games – approximately 60% of women compared to 40% men reported this, while about the same number of men and women reported playing video games. “I think there”s a sort of stereotype of the male gamer who plays first-person shooter types of games as being predominant,” said Jones. “We saw that game playing is frequently a way for women to beat back boredom. Generally, men actively sought out game playing, while women did it because they felt there was nothing else to do.”

    Most college students became game players in their mid-teen years and Jones says it is particularly striking that a portion of students say their game playing enhances their social lives.

    “As gaming devices like XBox, GameCube, PlayStation, etc., incorporate networked gaming into their machines and games, I think we”ll see a rather large jump in the number of people who will start up a game as much to be with their friends,” Jones notes. “In some ways the line between playing an online game and socializing is likely to become blurred – the game may well be a form of socializing, and we may find ourselves virtually inhabiting a SIMS-like world. Indeed, we may even find ourselves hanging out with SIMS!”

    Asked about the social down side of gaming, whether college students played games instead of being with their friends, 65% of the students said gaming has little to no influence in taking away time they might spend with friends and family.

    In addition to his work as a senior research fellow at the Pew Internet & American Life Project , Steve Jones is Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers.

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to study the social impact of Americans’ Internet use.