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An Interesting Insight into the Potential Value of Video Games

  • Sep 8, 2010
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Video Games are one of the most widespread and enjoyed forms of entertainment amongst the young people today. In recent years the video game industry has been quietly outpacing the movie industry in terms of total number of titles and the revenue. Video games have, for better or worse, become a part of mainstream. And just like any other form of entertainment in the past that was disruptive enough to change the whole way that we spend our leisure time, the ascendance of the video games has been greeted with its own share of controversy. Many societal ills have been purportedly traced to the increased play of video games, and several high-profile crimes involved individuals who had were known to have spent many hours playing very violent games. And yet, it is far from clear that the effect of video games on the society is exclusively, or even primarily, a negative one. In this short book the authors are drawing on their own research in order to show some very positive effects that video games have on the civic engagement of youth. It is a fascinating work that will hopefully challenge some misconceptions and provide a more positive and balanced outlook on this topic.

For some games it is intuitively plausible that they may have a positive impact on the civic engagement. The most obvious example is SimCity, where the player assumes the role of a mayor and tries to develop the city in the most optimal way. However, the research presented in this book shows that even playing certain games like Halo has a significant correlation with the civic engagement.

The authors of this book distinguish between social and civic behavior. They show that the vast majority of kids play games with others at least some of the time, but this does not necessarily translate into a civic engagement. In order to measure the actual civic engagement several measures are employed and described.

The single biggest finding that is presented here is that kids who are very frequent players of video games are actually slightly more likely to be civically engaged. The authors are careful to point out that this is only a correlation, and leave the possible connection between the two for some other study. Even so, this finding is very important as it challenges the preconceived notion that gaming and civic engagement are antithetical to each other.

The book ends with a few suggestions for parents, teachers, youth and the game developers. Based on the findings presented here and a few sensible principles the authors make recommendations on how to make the gaming experience more useful and relevant for the civic engagement of the young people.

Even though this book is written from a very strong social-science perspective, it is very accessible and should appeal to the general audience. In fact, I hope that a lot of people do read it as it will certainly contribute to the public discussion of the role that video games play in the society.

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About the reviewer
Bojan Tunguz ()
I am a benevolent rascal. I love lounging in bed on a Sunday morning. Rainy days make me melancholy, but in a good kind of way. I am an incorrigible chocoholic. I hate Mondays, but I get over it by Wednesday. … more
About this product


Joseph Kahne is Professor of Education, Abbie Valley Chair, Dean of the School of Education, and Research Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College.

Ellen Middaugh is currently a doctoral candidate in Human Development at UC Berkeley's School of Education and is Research Associate at Mills College's School of Education. Her research focus is on civic and political socialization of young people.

Chris Evans is Senior Program Associate of the Civic Engagement Research Group. Her background includes graduate work in music, literature and comparative literature, as well as professional editing and translation experience.
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