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‘Loner’ image out: For teens, video games often social

Those who played games with a civic component to them were actually more likely to engage in such activities, a new report finds.

By Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 2008

At play: Jacob Lynch (left) jokes with his friend Brett Oppido after beating him at a video game, which they play every day after school in Santa Clara, Calif.

Tony Avelar



Breaking news: Teens play video games. A lot.

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But it might not always be so bad for them.

That’s one conclusion of a new report examining teens’ gaming habits, socializing, and civic engagement.

While the study found that 99 percent of teenage boys and 94 percent of teenage girls play video games, it didn’t find that those who very frequently played games were more socially isolated or less likely to participate in civic activities.

Those who played games with a civic component to them were actually more likely to engage in such activities.

“It matters what kind of game you play more than how long you play it,” says Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project and a coauthor of the report, which was released Tuesday. “There’s a debate about gaming ... that is quite polarized.... The intention behind this report is to open up and put some numbers behind some of these questions about games.”

To start, those numbers make it clear that video and computer games have become a standard part of most adolescents’ lives. Not only do nearly all teens play them, but nearly one-third of teens play games every day, and an additional 21 percent play games three to five days a week.

While boys reported playing slightly more often and for longer periods of time than girls, there was little difference of any kind when it came to ethnicity or income.

And the researchers found no basis for one of the frequent criticisms of gaming, that kids who play video games are loners who are socially isolated. In fact, they discovered, three-quarters of all teens play games with others at least some of the time, and about half play with friends they know from their offline lives. Daily gamers were just as likely to communicate with their friends and spend time with them face to face as their peers who don’t play games often.

Parker Seagren, a sophomore in Barrington, Ill., says that about 80 percent of the time he plays games – usually Xbox games like “Halo 3,” “Gears of War,” or sports simulations – he plays with friends from school, either in person or connected virtually. “I don’t think playing video games really affects kids that much,” he says, though he notes that his own game-playing goes down during the school year when he’s busy with school and sports.

Still, critics have been quick to target video games, in particular, as related to a variety of teenage problems, from obesity and reduced attention spans to antisocial behavior and violence.

Some parents say it was hard for them to accept gaming as an acceptable activity, especially since it’s not a medium they used much as kids.