Survey: Nearly every American kid plays video games

Mimi Ito, an anthropologist who studies the use of new media, said more research is needed to explain this phenomenon. But she speculates the ties that gamers make with "real-life local friends" stimulate civic engagement.

"Gaming is the reason to get together — but they're probably talking about other things," says Ito, who's based at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center of Communication.

For this and other reasons, Ito cautioned parents against negative stereotypes about video games.

How young people play a game, she says, is as important as what they play.

To that end, Jesse Schell, a professor of entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University, hoped the report would encourage parents to learn more about the video games their children play.

"If more parents would take the time to play the same things their children are playing — or even better, play with them — it would benefit both parents and children," says Schell, who teaches video game design.

About a third of parents who were surveyed said they play video games with their children some or all of the time. Most of those parents are younger than 40, part of a generation that grew up playing video games themselves.

Kimberly Coleman, a 35-year-old mom and blogger in New York City, was a fan of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong as a kid. She now plays video games with her 4-year-old son, but only those with physical activity, such as Wii Sports, or an educational component.

"Growing up with video games made me more hesitant to have a gaming system in our home," says Coleman, who doesn't want her kids to become "couch potatoes."

That's why Graden, back in Chicago, likes her Wii Fit. She's also started playing Guitar Hero with her buddies, though, though she's a little miffed it has only a few girl characters. "They dress, like, really sleazy," she says. "It's sort of weird."

Graden also plays the Wii with her mom, but only after she hits the books and practices her French horn.

"For me," she says, "it's always schoolwork first."

READERS: Tell us your stories about your kids and video games. What do they play? Do you play with them? What do you think they learn from the gaming experience?

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