Who plays computer games, and what does it mean? Pew Research has a new study of American attitudes with some fascinating results. This is important stuff for anyone interested in gaming and education. A major takeaway is that Americans are quite divided over the realities of game play and how we perceive it.
Let me pick out some of the highlights.
Gaming is fairly widespread, but few people call themselves gamers. “About half of American adults (49%) ‘ever play video games on a computer, TV, game console, or portable device like a cellphone,’ and 10% consider themselves to be ‘gamers.’” Put another way, America is split in half between those who play computer games and those who do not.
The gender of game players is balanced, but most Americans don’t realize it:
A majority of American adults (60%) believe that most people who play video games are men – a view that is shared by 57% of women who themselves play video games. But the data illustrates that in some ways this assumption is wrong: A nearly identical share of men and women report ever playing video games (50% of men and 48% of women).
In fact, that stereotype is not only wrong, but the reverse of reality for older players: “women ages 50 or older are actually more likely to play video games than men of the same age. Among adults ages 50 and older, 38% of women play video games compared with 29% of men.” (emphasis in original)
In the reversal of another expectation, nonwhites are more likely to call themselves gamers than are whites.
While there are no differences by race or ethnicity in who plays video games, Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to say the term “gamer” describers them well. Some 19% of Hispanics self-identify as a gamer, compared with 11% of blacks and 7% of whites. (emphasis added)
Another deep divide shows up in how we think about what games do. “The public is closely split on some other major debates surrounding the content of games and their impact on users”, when it comes to teaching skills, being a good or bad use of time, and in comparison to tv:
The age divide in who games is real, with a curve falling with age, but less steep than some might think:
Two-thirds (67%) of those ages 18 to 29 say they play video games… More than half (58%) of those ages 30 to 49 play video games, along with 40% of those ages 50 to 64 and 25% of those 65 or older.
The older the person, the more likely they are to be skeptical of games’ value, generally.
There’s a deep cultural divide over the old canard about games causing violence:
A slight majority of the public (53%) disagree with the statement “people who play violent video games are more likely to be violent themselves.” But 40% agree that there is a relationship between video game violence and violent behavior. Some 32% of those who play video games themselves see a connection between games and violence, along with 26% of self-identified gamers.
Gender and violence note: “Women are more likely than men to agree (by a 47% to 31% margin) that people who play violent games are more likely to be violent themselves.”
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, gamer players (not just “gamers”) have a higher opinion of their platform (or medium) than do non-players. “Compared with those who do not play video games, game players are more likely to agree with the positives and disagree with the negatives associated with games”.
What does this mean for educators, especially those of us excited about the uses of games for learning?
It means we are dealing with a divided populace, and we have to be prepared to educate a good chunk of them. This Pew study reminds us that there’s a lot of anti-gaming feeling out there, which makes the task of implementing games in schools more challenging.