Sunday, July 6, 2003

The game, called “Dance Dance Revolution Extreme,” costs 75 cents and offers players a handful of minute-long songs in full stereo with pink and yellow lights pulsing to the beat.

Michael Walter and Luis Aguilera, both 18, step onto the metal dance pad that controls the popular machine. Speakers blast a disco melody into the Silver Spring arcade.

Mr. Walter stomps his four directional foot pads in an effort to hold the beat, coordinating his movements with the arrows sliding up the screen. A small crowd gathers to watch the dancing duo through the arcade’s front window. A minute of frantic action leaves the two teens winded and sweating.

“Oh, yeah, it’s addictive,” says Mr. Aguilera, who will be a senior this fall at Montgomery Blair High School.

Mr. Walter, who will attend Johns Hopkins University this fall, added: “It’s generally not a good idea to eat before you do this.”

The $10 billion video game industry scores high with college students, but often for more than simple entertainment, a national report says.

Video games have become “virtually commonplace” among college students, who have found ways to squeeze them into their schedules at no apparent expense to their study time, says the report, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project

“Games today are as common as television and newspapers,” said Steve Jones, senior research fellow at Pew and principal author of the study, titled “Let the Games Begin: Gaming Technology and Entertainment Among College Students.”

Students “learn how to manage their time with gaming being part of life. They’ve learned how to incorporate them simultaneously.”

“Simultaneously” can mean playing “Tetris” via cell phones in class, jumping between Internet research and online poker, or tossing aside books for a half-hour rendezvous with a Playstation 2, said Mr. Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

College students focus most of their game time in the evening hours, with 41 percent playing after 9 p.m. and 37 percent playing between 5 and 9 p.m., the Pew study found. About 69 percent of the students started with video games in elementary school, the report said.

Students say the experience helps maintain friendships.

“There are actually a lot of different people I’ve met through ‘Dance Dance Revolution,’” said Mr. Walter, adding that he typically plays three to four hours at a time “at least once a week,” usually after school or on weekends.

Students playing video games together quickly form bonds, Mr. Jones said.

“They were doing it together, interacting although not all were playing, and it seemed like a lot of fun,” Mr. Jones said. “They were actively participating in the process, giving each other advice, sharing ‘war stories’ and trash talking. … That’s not what we expected.”

Students also reported mostly positive, and few negative, side effects from gaming. Roughly two-thirds said gaming had no effect on academic performance, although 48 percent acknowledged that playing kept them from studying “some” or “a lot.”

Critics warn that video games — particularly violent ones — can have negative consequences. Popular games such as “Doom” or “Mortal Kombat” can increase aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior among youths, the American Psychological Association has warned.

“Violent video games provide a forum for learning and practicing aggressive solutions to conflict situations,” Craig Anderson, head of the psychology department at Iowa State University, wrote in an APA statement.

The most popular computer games include “first-person shooters” such as “Quake,” “Doom” and “Everquest,” the Pew study said, but simple time-passers such as solitaire and backgammon also ranked high.

About 75 percent of teenage boys play Internet games, but so do 57 percent of teenage girls.

“That was a surprise,” Mr. Jones said. “The common conception about Internet gaming was that most were male, that they were all playing first-person shooters, but that’s really not the case.”

The Pew survey, designed to reflect the demographics of the country’s college population, was taken during the beginning and end of academic years in 2002.

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