‘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.
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“My first reaction was, ‘I don’t understand it,’ ” says Jeffrey Wiener, a father of 9- and 12-year old boys in New York and director of a company that helps develop educational games. But at a certain point, he says, he realized that what his sons were doing wasn’t all that different from the time he spent with friends running around in the yard with their hands in the air shooting at each other and taking on various roles.Skip to next paragraph
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“They’re doing virtually exactly what I did as a boy,” he says. “The gaming world is now a natural part of their playtime.”
In particular, Mr. Wiener says, he’s come to appreciate the social-networking nature of some of the games his sons play. He began noticing that his 12-year-old son, Zach, was playing with his cousin, whom he rarely got to see in real life. In “Halo” and other games, “there’s this collaborative teaming that takes place,” Wiener says. “The games now are ones where teamwork and narrative are more a part of them.”
Still, Wiener sets limits. Games like “Grand Theft Auto,” which he sees as celebrating the killing of people just for the sake of chaos, are out. And he questions the value of something like “Guitar Hero,” where kids spend a lot of time simulating playing the guitar, rather than learning an actual musical instrument.
Games’ content, in fact, may make a difference, say the authors of the Pew report. One goal of the study was to find out what correlation, if any, there was between frequent game-playing and civic behavior.
While the study found that the quantity of gaming seemed to have no effect on kids’ civic involvement, they did identify certain “civic gaming experiences.” Some games encourage mentorship and teamwork between players, have players learn about a social issue like famine or the environment, or force them to make moral and ethical decisions. In others – like “SimCity” or “Civilization” – players have to make decisions about how a community or nation should be run.
The kids who frequently have these sort of experiences are much more engaged civically and politically than their peers, reporting greater interest and involvement in politics, volunteer activities, and raising money for charity.
The researchers emphasize that the correlation doesn’t demonstrate causality: Kids naturally inclined to be civically involved, for instance, might seek out more civic-minded gaming experiences. But the correlation, researchers say, does raise interesting questions about the ways parents, educators, and game developers can tap into the variety of games and encourage more positive experiences.
“The incredible diversity of gaming opportunities out there means we need to think in more nuanced ways about what kids are doing and what the effects of those experiences might be,” says Joseph Kahne, dean of Mills College’s School of Education in Oakland, Calif., and a coauthor of the report. “To the extent we get locked into a ‘games are good’ or ‘games are bad’ framework, we’re not going to be able to offer useful advice or guidance to parents. We’re going to be shutting everything down or opening everything up.”