28 August 2013

97% of men in college and 80% of women in college have played video games often at some point

A study drawn from University of Texas-Austin students is making headlines, some based on misreporting of the story, about how often people play video games at the campus.
Potential participants were screened with a web-based questionnaire regarding their current and past video gaming habits. The principle items of the questionnaire were, "In the last year, how many hours per week do you tend to play video games?"' and "Prior to the last year, think back to the period in which you most frequently played video games. How many hours per week did you tend to play during that period?" Participants who reported 2 hours or less of video game play per week qualified for inclusion in the study. A sample of 816 prospective participants (463 female) were screened for inclusion in the present study. Only nine male respondents qualified based on their self-reported gaming habits, whereas 90 females qualified.
That’s right — the researchers had a hard time finding male participants who played computer games less than two hours per week, during the period in which they most frequently played video games, and not necessarily now.[1] 
[1] I’m pretty sure that the two-hours-per-week threshold was applied to the second question and not the first because only 90 of the 463 female respondents qualified, and “[f]or all female respondents, the median hours of current weekly game play was 1 (SD = 7.08) and 7 (SD = 12.6) at their most frequent.” If the two-hours-per-week threshold were applied based on current play, then well over half the women respondents would have qualified. Moreover, the study seems to discuss the eligible participants as “novice players,” which would likewise suggest that they were selected based on their never having played much.
The median male prospective participant played video games 8 hours per week (S.D. 9.2) in the last year, and 20 hours per week (SD 18.8) at a past time of peak play.  Given the other data it is fair to estimate that something like 10% to 20% of men at the University of Texas-Austin who inquired about the study had played less than two hours a week of video games in the last year.

The 90 female participants who qualified were a bit less than 20% of the prospective female participants.  The 9 male participants who qualified were a bit less than 3% of the prospective male participants.  This fits with a discussion of the literature in the study that states that: "In 2008, 72% of the general population and 97% of teenagers aged 12–17 reported playing video games."

Of course, one suspect that people who play video games very rarely may be disproportionately represented among people who don't answer web-based surveys about video game use with any eye towards being recruited as a subject in a psychology study.

Thus, most women and many men in college, however, currently don't play video games very often.

A number of blog reports inaccurately claimed that the cutoff was not two hours per week during the period in which you most frequently played video games, but two hours per day in the last year.  This is a far more extreme claim, although the number of male college students at the University of Texas-Austin who answered the survey and don't frequently play video games currently is still pretty modest.

The study's bottom line conclusion was that video game playing built valuable mental skills in novice players.

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