A new Pew Internet & American Life Project study reports that video game playing is essentially universal among teens of both genders -- and the organization believes that gaming can have a positive social impact on teens, potentially raising awareness of social issues or spurring interest in helping others.
Said senior research specialist Amanda Lenhart, "The stereotype that gaming is a solitary, violent, anti-social activity just doesn't hold up. The average teen plays all different kinds of games and generally plays them with friends and family both online and offline."
According to the study, about half of gamers have played games that cause them to think about moral and ethical issues, while about 40 percent play games involving decisions about how to run a community or political entity, and similar numbers report learning about social issues. Pew claims that teens who are exposed to such virtual activities and considerations are more likely to become invested in politics or current events in the real world.
It was found that most gamers play games in a variety of environments: alone, online, and with friends in the same room. Just a quarter of gamers exclusively play games alone, contradicting the hobby's frequent antisocial reputation. Most gamers also play at least five genres of games, and nearly half play eight or more genres.
Said co-author Joseph Kahne, director of Mills College's Civic Engagement Research Group, "We need to focus less on how much time kids spend playing video games and pay more attention to the kinds of experiences they have while playing them. Games that simulate aspects of civic and political life may well promote civic skills and civic engagement. Youth, parents, teachers, and others who work with youth should know about the wide diversity of video games -– so they can take full advantage of games and their civic potential."
The most popular games among the surveyed 12- to 17-year-olds were Guitar Hero, Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Dance Revolution. Other major titles were Grand Theft Auto, , and Tetris. Racing, puzzle, and sports games were the most popular genres, being played respectively by 74 percent, 72 percent, and 68 percent of teens. They were closely followed by action (67 percent) and adventure (66).
Despite their disproportionate coverage in the press (and representation by highly-played Halo 3), first-person shooters were played by only 47 percent of respondants, lower than the figures for rhythm, strategy, fighting, and simulation, but higher than RPGs and survival horror. MMOs and virtual worlds bottomed out the list with 21 percent and 10 percent respectively.
In response to the study, the National Institute on Media and the Family -- an outspoken game industry critic -- released statement reading in part, "Today's study by Pew continues to highlight the need for parents to be vigilant regarding their child's video gaming habits. Games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto will remain popular with teens, despite retailers and the ESRB's best attempts to keep M-rated games out of kids' hands. ...Parents should not only be concerned about a game's title and content, but also the amount of time their kids play these games."