Video Games Are Good For Kids, Experts Find

With titles like "Guitar Hero," a Pew Internet survey refutes some common confusion about games -- that most are violent and teens tend to play alone.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

September 17, 2008

3 Min Read

A new comprehensive study of teens' gaming experiences dispels much of the fear that video games can incite users to violence and, at the same time, the study found that game playing includes heavy social interaction and civic engagement. And, yes, girls are now playing video games almost as much as boys.

The study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that nearly all teens play video games and that their games' activity has become a major component of their overall social experience.

Released Tuesday, the 76-page report ventured far and wide into the video game phenomenon, ranging from an examination of which teens are playing the games to the social context of their play.

"This is the first large-scale study to examine the relationship between specific gaming experiences and civic outcomes," the report stated.

The survey refuted some common misunderstandings about games -- namely that most are violent and that teens tend to play the games in solitude.

"For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience," the report states. "65% of game-playing teens play with other people who are in the room with them."

Indeed, the most popular game played by U.S. teens is Guitar Hero, which enables players in a group to play guitar by hitting correct note sequences of songs. Guitar Hero tends to be more popular among more affluent households, but has also lured many girls into a video game universe that had traditionally been dominated by boys playing sports action and even some violent games.

Pew said 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games. One half of teens said they had played a video game "yesterday," indicating that the phenomenon is growing. And 90% of parents said they often play along with their children.

The study stands in bold contrast to the situation in 2005 when the popular TV show 60 Minutes electrified its audience with the story of a lawsuit against the providers of the Grant Theft Auto video game. The lawsuit claimed that months of playing the game had influenced the teenager to go on a murder rampage.

The Pew report prompted immediate praise from the trade group Entertainment Software Association.

"Replacing stereotypes with facts, this groundbreaking study underscores what we have known to be true --video games are beneficial and can have positive effects on children's civic and social development," said an association spokesman.

The Pew report found that when teens observed others exhibiting aggressive behavior or "hateful, racist, or sexist" playing behavior, they often attempted to stop the boorish behavior.

"Social game play is thought to offer the possibility for youth to have collaborative and interactive experiences, experiences that potentially parallel may real-world political and civic activities," the report states.

By far, the most popular game mentioned by survey respondents was Guitar Hero. The game has gained in popularity its audience has broadened from its initial PlayStation 2 platform to additional platforms including PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS.

The other most popular games in order cited in the report are: Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Dance Revolution.

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