Image: Mcnulty
David McNulty, a sophomore at the University of Maine, demonstrates one of the many computer games he plays at his home in Poland, Maine.
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msnbc.com

Video games aren’t just for kids. For American college students, games are as much a part of life as studying and partying. A study from Pew Internet Research finds that 70 percent of college students play video games at least “once in a while.”

Image: MSNBC Reporter Jane Weaver
ALMOST HALF of college students who play video, computer or online games admit that it keeps them from studying “some” or a “lot,” according to the Pew study. About 9 percent said that gaming was a way to avoid studying.

The study, “Let The Games Begin: Gaming technology and entertainment among college students,” was conducted by Steve Jones, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The goal was to learn about the impact of video games on college student’s lives.

The survey was given to college students at four-year and two-year public and private colleges and universities between March 2002 and October 2002.

Video games have transformed pop culture. Sales of video games have bypassed Hollywood box office receipts in the last few years.

But only recently have researchers started studying the pervasive impact of video games on young people’s lives.

The Pew study comes on the heels of research from the University of Rochester that found college students who regularly play shoot-em-up video games have sharper visual skills than those who don’t.

HOW MEN, WOMEN DIFFER

The Pew study smashes a few gender stereotypes about avid gamers, finding that slightly more women (60 percent) than men (40 percent) reported playing computer and online games. About the same number of men and women play video games.

Women prefer computer games over violent video games played on consoles partly because they don’t usually require the player to choose a character. Online games like Diamond Mine or Tetris are popular among women because gender isn’t an issue.

Men play for fun (45 percent); women play when they’re bored (33 percent).

Video games are also a way guys bond with their buddies; 51 percent of men believing that gaming improved their friendship with friends. Only 34 percent of women believe video games help their friendships.

Nearly two-thirds of the students said games were a good way to spend time when friends weren’t around, but they also said that video games didn’t take time away from family or friends.

Average video gamers in college aren’t the stereotypical alienated loners locked away in darkened, pizza box-filled dorm rooms. Most of the study’s participants had positive associations with video games, saying they felt pleasant (36 percent) when they played or that they were challenging (45 percent).

In particular, students said playing video games were a way to spend more time with their friends, one of the key trends spotted by the researchers.

Rather than separating leisure activities like video games from the rest of their lives, college students stole time between classes to play or as a brief distraction from writing papers. Multi-tasking is also big on campus with students gaming while instant messaging or even downloading music.

Video games are also prime-time for up-all-night college students. About 41 percent of college gamers play after 9 p.m. with only 8 percent reporting that they play before noon.

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