Pew Research Center’s Report on Gaming & Gamers

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The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group that conducts polling and demographic research, has released 17 page long report on their findings about Gamers and Gaming. This is an incredibly insightful report for anyone conducting sociological research on current issues in gaming or  seeking the demographic make up of the video game community. It’s a pretty lengthy report, but I’ll try and break down some of the highlights.

The group posed the following questions to a survey of over 2000 Americans.

  • Do you ever play video games on a computer, TV, game console, or portable device like a cellphone? Yes, No, Don’t know, Refuse
  • Do you think this is true for most video games, true for some games but not others, NOT true for most video games, or are you not sure?
    • Video games help develop good problem solving and strategic thinking skills. 
    • Video games are a waste of time.
    • Video games portray women poorly.
    • Video games promote teamwork and communication.
    • Video games portray minority groups poorly.
    • Video games are a better form of entertainment than watching TV.
  • Based on what you know about video games, please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statements. Agree, Disagree, Don’t Know, Refuse
    • Most people who play video games are men.
    • People who play violent video games are more likely to be violent themselves
  • Some people use the term “gamer” to describe themselves as a fan of gaming or a frequent game-player. Do you think the term “gamer” describes you well, or not? Yes Gamer, No, Not Gamer, Don’t know, Refuse

Additional probing questions were asked about video game causing violence, how racial groups were represented in games, and how video games represent women.

Let’s go over some of their discoveries!

In regards to who plays video games and considers themselves gamers, the report found that only 10% of respondents considered themselves to be gamers, despite nearly half of respondents answering that they play video games.

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Respondents in older age brackets were less likely to identify as a gamer

The demographics of gender in gaming is similar to what the ESA reported earlier in the year, but there’s a considerable difference between the number of women and men who identify as gamers, perhaps signalling a disconnect between women and gaming culture.

Why is there such a big difference between people who play games and identify as gamers? It could be that by identifying as a gamer you’re admitting you are a part of a bigger culture that many respondents desire not to be counted upon. The term gamer may carry with it perceived connotations that aren’t appealing to more casual or infrequent consumers.

With regards to the questions regarding video games as  cultural and societal entities, the report found that a good portion of the population believe that video games can provide positive effects.

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I believe this graph is a particularly important one, because it represents a practical and reasonable view of video games within society. As with any medium, video games have a varying range in terms of intellectual and interactive value; some games will be your action fueled titles that don’t challenge you to work out problems, while others can be great sources of cooperative play and brain stimulation. It’s unfortunate that the medium often gets labeled as being only its biggest titles (Call of Duty, Madden, GTA) when there are plenty of games that challenge players to think outside of the box, work together, or take witness to a wonderful tale.

The study also asked questions to respondents in regards to how they perceive violent video games as agent in creating  real world violence.

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The majority of respondents did not believe that violent video games lead to violent actions, despite some groups believing they do. It’s clear that younger men and women disagree with the statement, but that the issue is still one that is very much up for discussion and debate among the community.

Lastly, we’ll look at the study’s finding on public perception of representation in gaming:

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This one is a little surprising, as the majority of respondents didn’t choose to weigh in one way or another. It’s clear that more respondents believe that only some games exhibit poor representation of women and minorities, which is a fair statement of video games, but it is alarming that that a healthy portion believe that most games have poor portrayals. This shows that proper representation within video games of women and minorities is an ongoing struggle and that the general population simply do not know about it.

There’s a lot more in the actual report that I highly recommend checking out. This kind of data is rare, but it helps us gain a better understanding of how video games are being viewed in our society and what we need to work on as a community.  For sociologist, such data is invaluable because it gives insight to the social problems existing at the intersection of sociology and video games.

Charts and graphs provided by the  Pew Research Center

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Games That Make A Difference: Zoo U

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Wow, what a smart and creative title! – No one

It’s time to talk about games, but we’re not going to talk about any ol’ ordinary games; we’re going to talk about games that make a difference. These posts are going to be about games that have some sort of sociological significance; be it in the way they change the industry or in the way they change those that play them. So let’s dive in with our first game:

ZOO U

Zoo me? Zoo U.  Developed by 3C institute, Zoo U is an interactive game that seeks to help kids develop social and emotional skills. It does this by tracking and accessing players  skills as they play through the game. Players are given common day social situations that a child may come across in class, and then gives them options as to how to progress in those situation, all in a simulated virtual school setting. In doing so, it assess initial social skills and then assesses them as they progress to help instructors and parents gauge their child’s development.  The game focuses on six core social skills to : impulse control, empathy, initiation, communication, cooperation, and emotion regulation.

Warning: Your child may come out of the experience with expectations of wild animals living and playing inside schools.

Why does Zoo U make a difference? I haven’t played the game myself, but the game is reported to have positive effects on the social and emotional well being of the kids that play it. Developing social skills at a young age is important to a child’s  emotional well being,  their academic development, and their success in making friends.. Games like Zoo U can give a leg up to children that may be having a difficult time developing these skills by making the learning process fun and engaging. Likewise, at an early age repetition is important in the development of skills (It’s why they have you do your times tables so many times) but in social situations you may not always get that repetition that often need. Video games bridge that gap, as it gives the child unlimited opportunities to interact communicate with their in game peers.

Games like Zoo U certainly aren’t the first wave of educational games, but they’re some of the first to be targeted at specific skills. We can think back to our own youths and the educational games we may have played. Games like Zoo U are building off their the first wave of educational games in meaningful and focused ways. We’ll have to see how this efforts effect their participants in the long run.

Check out Zoo U’s website

That sound a bit like an advertisement, but I do think that games that are directed at developing social skills can be huge help in assisting kids who may have problems developing social or emotional skills. This stuff is important, as they really are the building blocks to being a emotional and socially healthy adult. We can all use some help sometimes, so why not make it a bit more fun with some Vidja Guymmeessssss

Now excuse me while I pitch Bioware a dark and gritty version of the game that gives you branching paths that all lead to the same silly ending.

Can Video Games Create Empathy and Awareness for Real World Issues?

NPR recently reported on a experimental Virtual reality game that attempts to create a connection between participants and a conflict happening thousands of miles away. “Project Syria”  is a project coming out of University Southern California (USC) that is utilizing virtual reality hardware to make an intimate experience that generates awareness and empathy for the civil war in Syria.  You may be saying to yourself “Hey, wait. I don’t want to play a game that puts me into a depressing scenario! I just wanna play  Animal Crossing and electronically prune trees!” but let’s open our mind up alittle, WILL YA.

You can watch a non-virtual reality demo of the game here. For those not willing to watch, the demo puts you in the middle of a town with people walking around conversing. Over the sounds of street hustle and bustle you can hear a young girl singing. Then, without warning, a bomb goes off and all sounds are immediately replaced with ringing. The town then becomes full of dust and the scene is one of tragedy and disaster.

Project Syria is one of the first virtual reality demos to be used to gain awareness for real world issues, but it certainly isn’t the first game to be designed to create awareness for an issue. In fact organizations like Games for Change  and TAKE ACTION GAMES have creating games to bring awareness to social issues for over a decade.  The game to create the biggest waves was arguably MTV’s “Darfur is Dying” released online in 2006, in which players took up the role of a family displaced by conflict in Darfur.

As they discuss in the NPR piece, Video games have the unique place in media as having the ability for more immersion than other forms. Movie goers can watch a film, create a connection to the movies character and plot, and then immediately disconnect. Video games expand those connections by giving the player choices and decisions that directly effect the character and plot, thus creating a stronger and longer lasting connection. Naturally then, video games have the ability to create great levels of empathy and awareness than other forms of media because the ties are that much stronger.

As Nonny de la Peña says in her interview with NPR “”I sometimes call Virtual reality an empathy generator….It’s astonishing to me. People all of a sudden connect to the characters in a way that they don’t when they’ve read about it in the newspaper or watched it on TV.”

Now obviously we’re probably not going to see most mainstream games take on social issues (Super Mario Syrian Crisis isn’t a title we’ll see anytime soon), but as game technology develop more and more we’ll definitely see video games used as social teaching devices, which is something we’re already seeing in schools. The question then becomes how and when we should use video games as tools for social change effectively, and that answer isn’t exactly clear yet.

Let me know what you think: Are video games good tools for social change? What experiences have you had? Are the tools of the future for creating empathy? Do you want to crowdfund “Super Mario Syrian Crisis”?