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Children Spend More Time Playing Video Games than Watching TV

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Updated April 21, 2004

Boys spend twice as much time playing video games as girls, but the gap is expected to close as more games are designed for girls with their preferences in mind, a Michigan State University survey released today has found.

“Our survey results demonstrate a passion that young people have developed for playing video games,” said MSU Distinguished Professor of Communication and Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media Bradley Greenberg. “They’re spending as much if not more time playing video games as they are watching television.

“Competition against others and challenge against oneself are the primary motives for playing video games for both sexes,” Greenberg emphasized. As children grow older, they seek more social interaction, he added.

The survey of more than 1,000 fifth, eighth and eleventh graders, and university students in Michigan and Indiana was conducted in 2003 by Greenberg with colleagues John Sherry of Purdue University and Ken Lachlan of Boston College.

The researchers also found that:

Playing video games competes for time successfully with watching television among young people of all ages. Eighth graders lead the way in time spent playing games in both genders – boys average 23 hours a week and girls 12 hours. College-age males are at the low end of the time-spent-playing scale averaging 16 hours a week while 11th grade girls spend the least amount of time playing video games at six hours a week.

A clear and consistent difference between males and females of each age group is the games that they report liking the most. Females consistently prefer classic board games, card-dice games, quiz-trivia games, arcade games and puzzle games. Males prefer fighters, shooters, sports, fantasy role-playing games, action adventure games and strategy games.

Gender differences in electronic game play are believed to be important because early involvement with technology opens up opportunities for future entry into high paying, high technology jobs, Greenberg said.

“It is believed that these opportunities accrue to boys because they spend more time working with electronic games and computers,” he said. “If girls become more involved with technology at an early age, it is likely that the interest in technology will continue into the work world.”

The results of this study point to more effective ways to get girls involved with technology than simply “slapping a bow on PacMan.” Games need to be designed that tap into tasks that female brains are better at, such as matching, memory and verbal skills, Greenberg noted.

Video games were a $6 billion industry in 2000, growing into an $11 billion dollar industry by 2003. The games are in 80 percent of American homes with children, and 60 percent of Americans play video games.

“All indications are that the industry will continue to grow at a healthy clip,” Greenberg said. “The emerging market is for games designed more with girls in mind that engage them for longer periods of time and force them to investigate more the technology behind the games.

“The next frontier involves transferring video game technology to educational settings and using the young people’s fascination with the games to involve them more with innovative teaching technologies.”

- Michigan State University

Articles in The Science of Mental Health are written by the originating institution. This article was originally posted to Newswise.

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