Video Games Have Potential to Increase Civic Engagement Among Youth, Report Finds

Virtually all American teens play computer, console, or cell phone games, and that gaming experience is rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement, a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds.

Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the report, Teens, Video Games, and Civics (76 pages, PDF), examined data from a survey of 1,102 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 and found that 97 percent of American teens — 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls — play some kind of video game. Indeed, a typical teen plays at least five different categories of games, with 40 percent saying they play eight or more different game types, while 76 percent play games with others at least some of the time.

The report also found that 44 percent of youth play games that teach them about a problem in society, while 52 percent play games that cause them to think about moral and ethical issues. The report indicated that youth who have these kinds of civic gaming experiences are more likely to be civically engaged in the offline world, and are also more likely to go online to get information about current events, try to persuade others how to vote in an election, say they are committed to civic participation, and raise money for charity. In addition, the study found that these civic gaming experiences occurred equally among all kinds of game players, regardless of family income, race, and ethnicity.

"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," said Joseph Kahne, director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College and co-author of the report. "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."

"Major New Study Shatters Stereotypes About Teens and Video Games." John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Press Release 09/16/2008.