September 16, 2008

New Pew Internet/MacArthur Report on Teens, Video Games and Civics

I was sitting in my friend’s living room a few weeks back, watching his three daughters play with the family’s Wii. Bart Simpson was trying, repeatedly, to leap over a vat of what looked like boiling liquid. The three sisters, elementary and junior high aged, were all engaged with the game and each other, talking, sharing strategies for clearing the liquid and advancing to the next part of the game.

In many way these girls are living examples of some of the main findings of a new research report issued today by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Mills College, supported by the MacArthur Foundation that takes a first look at teenagers, their video gaming habits and how their gaming experiences, both in the game and around the game are yielding opportunities for social interactions and engagement with their community.

The report, titled Teens, Video Gaming and Civics is based on a national, random digit dial telephone survey of 1102 parent-teen pairs. The teens we interviewed were ages 12 to 17.

Among the many findings of this study, we learned that gaming is nearly universal among teens, with 97% of American youth 12 to 17 playing computer, console, portable or cell phone games, and half of teens play on any given day, usually for about an hour. And as the three girls illustrate, gaming isn’t just the domain of boys – 94% of teen girls play games, as do 99% of teen boys. Teens who play games span the racial, ethnic and socio-economic spectrum, in ways that young users of many other technologies do not.

Gaming is also a social experience for most teens – 76% of adolescents say they play with friends, either in person or online. As with the girls I watched, gaming is an integral part of the fabric of teens’ social lives. Rather than keeping teens from interacting with peers (indeed, teens who game daily communicate and spend face to face time with friends just as frequently as teens who game less frequently), games often serve as a topic around which interaction is organized. Nearly a third of teens say they visit websites and online discussions about games they play.

Games also hold promise for teaching and learning, particularly in the realm of civics and civic engagement. My colleague and co-author, Dr. Joe Kahne, has elaborated on those elements in his own blog post as well as in a white paper also released today. And Connie Yowell, the director of MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning initiative – the part of the foundation that supported this research effort – sets the scene for this collaboration in her own spotlight blog entry.