Teens Prefer Online Games to Social Nets

NEW YORK More teens play online games than visit social networking sites. Also, the number of teens using e-mail has dropped significantly over the past four years. Those are among several of the more interesting nuggets contained in the latest report issued by The Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The new report, “Generations Online in 2009,” found that despite the commonly held perception that teens live on sites like MySpace and Facebook, 78 percent of teens 12-17 play online games while just 65 percent use social networking sites. Those numbers diverge for the Generation Y, as just half of adults 18-32 play online games while 67 percent of them are on social networking sites.

Despite the fact that nearly a third of teens are not social networkers, these sites, along with text and instant messaging are quickly shoving aside e-mail as a preferred form of Web communications for this group. Pew’s research found that 73 percent of teens 12-17 use e-mail — a sizable number — but down considerably from the 89 percent figure recorded in 2005.

“Teens really gravitate to these instant forms of communication,” said Sydney Jones, a Pew research assistant. “They’re not likely to be sitting around waiting for e-mail.”

In general, teens and Generation Y are more inclined to use the Internet for fun than for utility — which perhaps also explains their diminishing interest in e-mail. “These younger generations are significantly more likely than their older counterparts to seek entertainment through online videos, online games and virtual worlds, and they are also more likely to download music to listen to later,” said the report.

Jones said it’s not surprising lots of teens spend time playing online games, given that a whopping 97 percent claim to play video games of some kind — whether via consoles like the Xbox 360 or via the Web.

However, as popular as online gaming is for the younger generation, that popularity isn’t translating to virtual worlds as fast as some might expect.

Indeed, despite the hype, and the large number of prominent ventures into the virtual-worlds space, Pew found that just 10 percent of teens 12-17 spent time on these sites, up just a couple of percentage points from a few years ago.  Beyond the teen segment, virtual worlds barely register — as just 2 percent of Generation Y and 3 percent of Generation X claim to spend any time on these sites.

Pew surveyed 2,253 total internet users during the month of December.

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