Games: The Next Frontier In Political Advertising?

girls playing video gameVideo games could be the next frontier in political advertising, according to new data from a Pew Internet & American Life Project study. The research, which surveyed over 1,100 youths ages 12-17, found some distinct correlations between their game play and civic activities, and shattered some of the myths about gamers being social misfits.

Nearly all (97%) of American teens play some kind of video game, and a typical teen plays games from at least five different categories. In fact, the five most popular games among teens--"Guitar Hero," "Halo 3," "Madden NFL," "Solitaire" and "Dance Dance Revolution"--span widely varying genres. With ratings that range from E (for "Everyone," or games suited for players of all ages) to M (for "Mature" because of violence, blood and gore or strong language), the breakdown indicates that most teens aren't just playing violent first-person shooters or action games.

In fact, just over half of gamers said they played games that made them think about moral and ethical issues, and 43% said they played games in which they helped make decisions about how a community, city or nation should be run.

Teen gamers are also increasingly politically savvy, as almost two-thirds of them have gone online to get info about politics or current events, 61% have given money to or raised money for a charity, and 56% say they are interested in politics. It is these kinds of stats that the study's authors say make games a likely target for political candidates and civil organizations in the future.

"We're seeing more emphasis on digital media in general from politicians, so I think it's a real possibility," said Joseph Kahne, co-author of the report and director of the Civil Engagement Research Group at Mills College. "Games are digital media--and they're where kids are. And it's not just politicians. Even civic and advocacy groups could likely use games just as easily as they've used email to get people to volunteer, or donate, or march in support of a particular issue. On some levels, it's inevitable."

The study also found that teens are often quite social while they're playing games, contrasting the perception of the "gamer as loner." For example, almost two-thirds of game-playing teens play with other people who are in the room with them, while 27% play with people online. Meanwhile, teens that played games daily were about as likely to hang out with friends, chat with friends over the phone, or interact via social networks with teens that played less frequently.

According to Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project and co-author of the report, advertisers may need to change both the images they use and the messages they convey when trying to reach gamers. "First, it's about understanding that the stereotypes of gamers aren't true," Lenhart said. "The representations they use of teens and games should include images of boys and girls, groups of kids, and in some cases, even parents playing with their kids, because that's the reality."

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