The Entertainment Software Association has been documenting how women now comprise almost half of the gaming population in U.S., but the Pew survey highlights persistent differences in how they are gaming. Not only do boys play more, they tend to be networked gamers; 55% of boys play with friends online at least once a week, compared to 25% of girls. And to top it off, boys seem to have a lot more fun playing games online. They say they feel connected to other online gamers at higher rates than do girls who game online (84% versus 62%).
Plenty of folks are concerned about videogames promoting violence and antisocial behavior, but we need to pay more attention to what kids miss out on by not engaging in the positive social aspects of gaming. For example, while investigating links between videogames and violence, Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson discovered that boys who don't game at all showed the highest risk of getting into fights. These days, video games are what boys do together, so if they aren't gaming, it means they might not be part of the boys' club. While it's not exactly basketball or football, being a great League of Legends player or Minecrafter can be a source of peer status. In Silicon Valley, coders bond on weekends through the After Hours Gaming League and the angst over who gets invited to high status Settlers of Catan games is reminiscent of elite old boys' networks' bonding over golf and tennis.
In addition to conferring social benefits, gaming can be a gateway into science and technology related interests, skills, and careers. Progressive researchers and game developers have long sought to make games more attractive to girls for this reason. The recent firestorm over Gamergate recapitulates these concerns over gender representation in the gaming industry. The National Academy of Sciences released a report in 2011 that argued that educators should do more work to tap computer games as an avenue to science learning and interests.
You know that Minecraft is massive. But, did you know it is transforming learning?
Geeky teachers have brought Minecraft to subjects ranging from history to biology to probability. The game is being rolled out to every secondary school in Northern Ireland this month. If you're a parent, you've noticed Minecraft offerings spawning in your local summer camp listings. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a Minecraft camp for budding builders. Ninety-two libraries participated in the International Games Day Minecraft Hunger Games tournament, and crowned a 13-year-old girl as its champion. And, I've helped launch Connected Camps' Summer of Minecraft, a new in-game online camp.
Progressive educators have been advocating for games-based learning ever since Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail, and Reader Rabbit opened up a new market for consumer children's software in the '80s. SimCity demonstrated how a building and tinkering game could be embraced by parents, kids, and educators. And, Scratch shows how kid-centered learning communities can thrive online.