Friday, September 19, 2008

Gamers Make Good Citizens

Nearly every American teenager between the ages of 12 and 17 plays computer, Web, portable or console games. Those who play them together in the same room are more often to become civically and politically engaged. It seems counterintuitive given games' bad rep as violent, addictive and isolating, but that's the chief finding of a new study by the Pew Internet and Life Project and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Released Sept. 16, "Teens, Video Games and Civics" finds that half of kids play online games with people they know offline and that almost two-thirds of them go online for political information, are committed to civic participation and have raised money for charity.

What accounts for this surprising twist on the common perception of gaming? Something Pew calls, "civic gaming experiences." While the study found that 63 percent of teen reported encountering aggressiveness, and 49 percent ran into hateful, racist and sexist activity while playing games, 85 percent also saw other players step in to stop the bad actors. This helping behavior is one of the experiences that inclines teens toward good citizenship, Pew reported. Others include playing games that teach about social problems and issues or that invoke moral or ethical decisionmaking and those that require running communities, cities or nations or organizing groups or guilds.

Another indicator of deeper civic engagement is game related social interaction, Pew found. Seventy percent of players who read or visit Web sites about games, review them and discuss them online also go online to get information about politics or current events. This group also is more interested in politics than gamers who don't contribute to online gaming communities.

What's more, while educational opportunities promoting civic and political involvement tend to be centered in affluent white schools, civic gaming is much more equitably distributed. Income, race and age were unrelated to the amount of gaming experience; only gender was, with 81 percent of boys, but only 71 percent of girls reporting frequent or average civic gaming experiences.

As a nation we might be bowling alone and participating less, but it looks like kids are gaming together and getting involved.

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