Gamers = Better Citizens, part II

Gamers make better citizens.

They're all gamers now.
They're all gamers now . . .

Or at least, good citizen-type people tend to also be gamers. The causality isn’t clear yet, but thanks to some recent research, we now know there’s a correlation. People who play video games tend to be more engaged citizens.

That’s the headline from the Pew Internet Project report I mentioned a while earlier. Their research shows a few interesting things:

  • Over 95% of teens in the US play video games.
  • Racing, Puzzle and Sports games are the top three favourite genres, in that order. Incredibly, Solitaire is one of the mainstays of the Puzzle category. WTF?
  • For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience. People play together, usually with people they know from the ‘real world’. Playing on a network is less common than playing with your real-live friends, in your living room.
  • Teens who play games socially – with others in the same room – are more engaged civically and politically than those who don’t.

What do they mean by civic engagement? This means that social gamers . . .

  • Go to more trouble to inform themselves about political issues
  • Raise more money for charity
  • Take more interest in politics
  • Volunteer more
  • Go to protest marches more often

. . . than non-gamers, or people who play alone (who are in the minority anyhow).

This makes the point: as the new dominant cultural form of our society, video games are social in a way that TV isn’t.

Way back in 1995, before the Internet really took off, Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone, an influential article about the decline of civil society in the US. He said that TV was one of the causes eroding the social capital upon which that democracy was built.

Television has made our communities (or, rather, what we experience as our communities) wider and shallower. In the language of economics, electronic technology enables individual tastes to be satisfied more fully, but at the cost of the positive social externalities associated with more primitive forms of entertainment. The same logic applies to the replacement of vaudeville by the movies and now of movies by the VCR. The new “virtual reality” helmets that we will soon don to be entertained in total isolation are merely the latest extension of this trend. Is technology thus driving a wedge between our individual interests and our collective interests?

Only that’s the trick. We’re thirteen years on, and VR has died a faddy death. We don’t wear VR headsets and play in total isolation these days. Instead, the killer app is the other players. That’s the secret sauce that spices up most major game releases: the multiplayer. Anyhow, through most of human history, gaming has always been primarily multiplayer, from buzkashi to chess.

I think it’s no surprise that these days, curious, social people tend towards gaming as their entertainment of choice. Of course there’s value to solitary pursuits like reading and (to an extent) watching movies. But nothing can beat the thrill and variety of engaging with another person, whether you’re pwning face, flaming them in a forum, or inciting them to vote.

One thought on “Gamers = Better Citizens, part II

  1. Very interesting stuff. Starts to debunk some of the myths surrounding gaming. Perhaps parents facing that classic ‘yuppie dilemma’ of allowwing their kids an Xbox or Playstation ought to be forced to read?

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