National Writing Project

Teens, Video Games, and Civics

Date: December 18, 2008

Summary: Teens’ gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement, according to a study from the Pew Internet and American Life. The study offers teachers of writing an opportunity to explore the possibilities of these games for education.


Pew Internet and American Life has just released a survey called "Teens, Video Games and Civics"—the first large-scale study to examine the relationship between specific gaming experiences and teens' civic activities and commitments.

This nationally representative study looks at which teens are playing games, the games and equipment they are using, the social context of their play, and the role of parents and parental monitoring.

The survey explores some key questions about game and gaming network use and its impact on teens ages 12 to 17, and gives teachers of writing an opportunity to explore the possibilities of these games for education as well as civic engagement more generally.

Scholars call attention to the "tremendous educative power" games have to integrate thinking, social interaction, and technology into the learning experience, the report says.

The "new participatory culture," according to Henry Jenkins, "Offers many opportunities for kids to engage in civic debates, to participate in community life, to become political leaders—even if only through the `second lives' offered by massively multiplayer games or online fan communities."

Programs such as the NWP Technology Initiative and the Technology Liaisons Special-Focus Network support writing project teachers in exploring these connections between games, civic engagement, and literacy learning.

Report Highlights

Highlights from this report include the following findings:

  • Fully 97% of teens ages 12–17 play computer, Web, portable, or console games.
  • Most teens do not limit themselves to just a few game genres, instead choosing to play many different types of games.
  • For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience.
  • The quantity of game play is not strongly or consistently related to most civic outcomes, but some particular qualities of game play have a strong and consistent positive relationship to a range of civic outcomes.
  • Teens with the most civic gaming experiences were more likely to report interest and engagement in civic and political activities than teens with the fewest.
  • Teens in this sample were equally likely to report having civic gaming experiences regardless of race, age, or income.

Related Resource Topics

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