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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

35 percent of American parents are found to be video 'gamers'

BY KAREN MACPHERSON
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON - More than one-third of American parents - nearly half of them women - play computer and video games, sometimes by themselves and sometimes with their children, according to a survey released yesterday.

The survey, sponsored by the Entertainment Software Association and conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, showed that the typical "gamer parent'' is 37 years old, has been playing video and computer games for an average of 13 years, and spends 19 hours each month on the activity.

Overall, the survey showed that 35 percent of U.S. parents play video and computer games.

Of those, 80 percent play video and computer games with their children, and 66 percent believe playing the games has brought their families closer together.

"Gamer parents," as defined by the survey, are those who play video and computer games other than just desktop card games or children's games.

Douglas Lowenstein, president of the association - the trade group representing U.S. video and computer game publishers - said the survey was the "first-ever" study to look at "gamer parents," adding that it "dramatizes the increasing and positive role that video games play in American family entertainment."

"The data provide further evidence dispelling the myth that game playing is dominated by teens and single twenty-somethings. It tells us that parents see games both as an enjoyable activity on their own, and one that allows them to engage with their children as well," Mr. Lowenstein said.

Makers of video and computer games posted $7 billion in U.S. sales last year, and gaming software is the fastest-growing segment of the entertainment media industry, according to the trade association.

The association's survey also asked game-playing parents whether they support proposals to have government regulate game sales.

Such proposals have become increasingly popular because of concern over the violence and sex in such games as "Grand Theft Auto."

The survey found that 73 percent of game-playing parents are voters, and, of those, 60 percent opposed government regulation of game sales as a way to protect children from violent and sexual content. Thirty-six percent support such regulation.

Game-playing parents most often play card games, the survey found.

Other types of games played by parents, in order of popularity, include puzzle, board, and "game show" games, sports games, action games, strategy games, and downloadable games.

The survey indicates a clear connection between a parent's interest in playing video and computer games and whether their child takes up the activity.

Eighty-five percent of kids of "gamer parents" also play computer and video games themselves, the survey found. In addition, 36 percent of game-playing parents said they introduced their children to games, while 23 percent began playing because their children were playing, the survey said.

Studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation have found that nearly half of all children 6 and under have used a computer, and 30 percent have played video games. In addition, one in 10 have a video game player in their bedroom, while 7 percent have a computer there.

Looking at children ages eight to 18, the foundation found that 83 percent have a video game console at home, and about half have one in their bedroom. In addition, nearly one-third of children this age have a computer in their bedroom.

On average, 8 to 18-year-olds spend just under 50 minutes daily playing video games, and just over an hour each day using a computer outside of schoolwork, the foundation found.

"I think parents' media use is probably an important influence on kids' media use," said Vicky Rideout, a foundation vice president who heads the organization's Study of Entertainment Media and Health.

Game-playing parents with children "gamers" spend slightly more than nine hours each month playing games with their kids, the Hart survey indicated.

David Walsh, a Minneapolis psychologist who founded the National Institute on Media and the Family, said "it's no big surprise that more and more adults are playing video and computer games.

"These are the people who were playing video games 15 years ago, and now they're 30 and many of them are parents, and they are still playing,'' Mr. Walsh said.

While Mr. Walsh stressed that his group "isn't anti-video game," he added that parents should consider the kind of games their children play, or that they play with their children, because "ultra-violent games are harmful to kids."

Because video games are interactive, "it's probably better for parents to play video games with their children than watch TV if the video games are good ones," said Diane Levin, a child development expert at Wheelock College.

But Ms. Levin also suggested that parents think about the other types of things they could be doing with their children, such as reading, taking a walk, etc.

She also noted that many of those scholars who promote the idea that playing video and computer games is a good family activity specialize in media studies - not child development.

"We aren't saying: Don't let children play video and computer games,'' Ms. Levin said. "But we are saying, the less they do it, the better."

Kurt Squire, an assistant professor of educational communication and technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said his research shows that "playing [video and computer] games with your kids is one of the most fun, healthy things you can do as a parent.

"It lets you play and socialize in nonthreatening ways - and with the Internet now, kids and parents can join guilds and clans where they do not have to be parent and child all the time, but see each other as more rounded people," Mr. Squire added.

Contact Karen MacPherson at: kmacpherson@nationalpress.com or 202-662-7075.



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