Video Games May Foster Teen Civic Engagement

September 19, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Media & Entertainment | Videogames | Youth & Gen X

The social interaction, collaboration, decision-making and problem-solving that most US teens experience while playing computer, console, or cell-phone games may lead to more active engagement in civil and political life, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project?study.


Nearly all (97%) US teens? play video games, and more than three-fourths (76%) play them with others at least some of the time, the?study found.

Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the survey included a sample of 1,102 US youth age 12-17.? It analyzed the relationship between gaming and civic experiences among teens to test the hypothesis that gaming might be prompting teen withdrawal from communities.

Instead, it found that gaming can be tied to civic and political engagement because youth get experience playing games that mirror aspects of civic and political life, such as thinking about moral and ethical issues and making decisions about city or community affairs, according to Pew.

The survey also shows that youth who have such civic gaming experiences are more likely to be civically engaged in the offline world. They are more likely than others are to go online to get information about current events, to try to persuade others how to vote in an election, to say they are committed to civic participation, and to raise money for charity.

Other significant findings from the study, below.

Game playing is universal, with almost all teens playing games and at least half playing games on a given day:

  • 97% of American teens ages 12-17 play some kind of video game.
  • 99% of boys and 94% of girls say they are gamers.


Game-playing experiences are diverse, with the most popular games falling into the racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure categories:

  • A typical teen plays at least five different categories of games and 40% of teens play eight or more different game types.


  • While some teens play violent video games, those who play violent games generally also play non-violent games.


Game playing is social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time:

  • 76% of gaming teens play games with others at least some of the time.
  • 82% play games alone at least occasionally, though 71% of this group also plays games with others.
  • 65% of gaming teens play with others in the same room.

Game playing can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life:

  • 76% of youth report helping others while gaming.
  • 44% report playing games via which they learn about a problem in society.

Game playing sometimes involves exposure to mature content, with almost one-third of teens playing games that are listed as appropriate only for older people:

  • 32% of youth 12-16 in the survey?sample play games that are listed as appropriate only for people older than they are.
  • 32% of gaming teens report that at least one of their favorite games is rated Mature or Adults Only.
  • 12-14 year-olds are equally as likely to play Mature and Adults Only games as their 15-17 year-old counterparts.

Not only do many teens help others or learn about a problem in society during their game playing, they also encounter other social and civic experiences:

  • 52% of gamers report playing games where they think about moral and ethical issues.
  • 43% report playing games where they help make decisions about how a community, city or nation should be run.
  • 40% report playing games where they learn about a social issue.

“The stereotype that gaming is a solitary, violent, antisocial 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,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist with the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“Gaming is a ubiquitous part of life for both boys and girls. For most teens, gaming runs the spectrum from blow-’em-up mayhem to building communities; from cute-and-simple to complex; from brief private sessions to hours-long interactions with masses of others.”

Civic gaming experiences occurred equally among all kinds of game players, regardless of family income, race, and ethnicity, according to Pew. These data stand in contrast to teens’ experiences in schools and other community situations, where white and higher-income youth typically have more opportunities for civic development, Pew said.

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