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Teens, Video Games, and Civics

March 7, 20117 March 2011

Social impacts of the arts

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This survey of 1,102 American youth between 12 and 17 years of age found that 97% of teens play computer, web, portable or console games. In 2008, two of the top five video games were arts-related: Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Gaming is, in part, a social activity for youth: “teens play games in a variety of ways, including with others in person, with others online, and by themselves”. However, the survey found that teens encounter both pro- and anti-social behaviour while playing video games.

Teens’ gaming experiences were found to be rich and varied, with “significant social interaction and civic engagement”. Some video games include “civic gaming experiences”, such as helping or guiding other players, learning about a problem in society, exploring a social issue that the game player cares about, thinking about moral or ethical issues, helping to make decisions about how a community or country should be run, and organizing game groups or guilds. These civic gaming experiences were found to be related to teens’ real-world civic and political engagement.

The survey also found that teens who play games with others in person were somewhat more likely to participate in civic and political activities, but those who played with others online were not more likely to be engaged. The overall quantity of game play was not found to be strongly related to interest or engagement in various civic and political activities.

Based on the survey findings, the report argues that “there is little evidence to support the concern that playing video games promotes behaviors or attitudes that undermine civic commitments and behaviors. At the same time, there is little evidence to support the idea that playing video games, in general, is associated with a vibrant civic or political life”.

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