According to the recent Pew Internet Survey, cast aside the image of the loner teenage boy playing video games and then going on a violent rampage.
The Pew Study found that most teen internet gaming is social (65%) and is positive associated with civic engagement. They also found no evidence of a connection between violence and gaming.
A caveat: Their study assumes that violent teen gamers accurate report on both their level of video gaming and their levels of violence (either of which are somewhat dubious assumptions, but the latter even more so). If I were a violent youth, I’m suspicious that even on a random survey I’d accurately report how violent I have been or am likely to be. And note of course, as statisticians will tell you, that the fact that the same people who game are also the same people who are socially and civicly engaged does not mean that the games lead to civic engagement. It is quite possible that these same individuals without the gaming would be more socially or civicly engaged, but until we can randomly assign some kids to play video games all day and some to quit video games, we’re unlikely to have any controlled experiment. Although lending credence to the report, the top video games in popularity reported were Guitar Hero (Wii program where you get credit for playing right notes on guitar), Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Revolution. Of these, only Halo 3 is expressly violent.
“This report does a lot of myth-busting,” said Amanda Lenhart, the Pew senior researcher who authored the study. “It’s not just about 14-year-old boys sitting alone in the basement blowing things up.” And the study found that virtually all teens were gaming (99% of teenage boys, 94% of teenage girls and 90% of parents playing with them); this seems to be perhaps the only sphere of life where one doesn’t see large class and race inequalities. “We don’t see economic inequalities, we don’t see racial differences,” she said. “We see are some slight variations by gender and by age, but that’s about it.”
It’s obviously good news that many youth are with other youth and interacting when they play the games, although it seems odd and counterintuitive that participating in many games (that are frequently violent) wouldn’t trivialize the violence and make it that much easier to disassociate oneself from ‘real life’ acts of violence (and just fantacize that one is playing another game).
The big boost of social gaming and involvement of parents is undoubtedly fueled by the popular Nintendo Wii playstation.
See the Pew Internet and American Life Survey on gaming here (survey was based on telephone interviews of 1,102 teenagers ages 12 to 17 between November 1 and February 5. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.)
See the Christian Science Monitor Article ‘Loner Image Out: for Teens, Video Games Often Social’ (9/18/08)