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Video games can be social, study finds

Even teens who play frequently are still engaged, at least if they play together.

October 05, 2008|Tara Malone | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Tucker Moore earns solid grades, runs cross-country at Lake Forest High School and is training to be an Eagle Scout. Still, when facing a tough math problem or moral dilemma, the 16-year-old sometimes asks: What would Link do?

Link -- the daring hero of Moore's favorite video game, Zelda -- has rescued a princess and freed the kingdom from tyranny. Moore said the adventure game has helped fine-tune his problem-solving in daily life.

"I can't go out and defeat the giant monster alligator thing, but I like getting out and helping people," Moore said.

A recent report suggests that video games may not be as harmful to teens' socialization as many people think.

"We had expected we might well find the frequency of game play undermines civic engagement. That was a surprise of the study. What we found was it really had no effect. Teens who play frequently were just as involved as kids who play infrequently," said coauthor Joseph Kahne, an education professor at Mills College in Oakland.

Researchers did find a correlation between how teens game and their social development.

Children who game together -- whether in family basements or after-school clubs -- are more likely to volunteer, raise money for a charity or participate politically than those who play alone, according to a survey of 1,102 teens by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington. The engagement did not appear to be affected by what or how often the teens played.

Sixty-four percent of those who played video games with others in the room said they had raised money for a charitable cause, for example, compared with 55% of those who are in a room alone when they play.

Nine of every 10 teenagers surveyed said they played some type of video game.

Last year, video games sold at a rate of nine per second, according to the Entertainment Software Assn. More than a third of U.S. households have a gaming console.

"The gaming landscape is incredibly broad. It's played by young teens and old teens, by boys and girls. This is really every kid," said study coauthor Amanda Lenhart, a Pew senior research specialist. "That's why this is so important: because kids are doing it and they are doing a lot of it."

Of course, it's not just kids who play video games. The fan base for gaming has diversified along with the variety of titles, which are increasingly interactive and often encourage group play. The Nintendo Wii is as commonplace as bingo in many retirement communities, where senior citizens use it to bowl or play interactive golf.

Lillie Beckwith of Chicago never cared much for video games, and she cringed when her 14-year-old son Deont'e became interested in virtual basketball games.

Ultimately, they made a deal: Deont'e, a high school freshman, could play an hour each night as long as he finished his homework, did his chores, and continued to help with their church and block groups.

"I have an A, B student, so it works very well for me," Beckwith said.

Emmi Lambert, 16, got hooked on the multiplayer game World of Warcraft and her gnome warlock character through her classmates. She connects online with friends, messaging with them through the game.

"You can be at home and still, in a way, be with your friends on the game," Lambert said.

Lambert said she could see the addictive potential, but she limited the time she played online and never passed on a social event to do it.

Gnomes, no matter how cute, are no match for her friends.

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