Not only are they playing regularly and enjoying this entertainment activity, but many young gamers report that they are reaping social and emotional benefits from gaming, too.2 For example, 70% of Gen Z teen gamers say playing video games helps them stay connected to others, compared with 58% of Gen Z adult gamers (see figure). These perceived benefits could help allay concerns some parents and social scientists may have about the amount of time teens spend playing video games and the impact it may have on their peer relationships and social skills.3
But will the social perks of gaming remain important to this generation (and others) as things return to “normal?”
Undoubtedly, the circumstances of the pandemic may have put a focus on this reliance on video gaming for social connections and interaction.4 When teens couldn’t see or spend time with their friends in person because of social distancing protocols, they gathered in game worlds—and this engaging and interactive activity may have sticking power. More than 60% of Gen Z gamers say making social connections while gaming was important to them even before COVID-19, suggesting that, for many, this sentiment is not defined wholly by the pandemic.
But Gen Z is not a monolith, and there are nuances even within the teen gamer cohort. For instance, Gen Z teen males appear to be more engaged with gaming, playing an average of 12 hours per week, compared with Gen Z teen females who play an average of 9 hours weekly. Our data also suggests that many aspects of socialization and expression are especially important for teen male gamers.5 For example, nearly 80% of Gen Z male teen gamers say making connections with others while playing video games is important to them, compared with 57% of Gen Z teen female gamers and 48% of gamers overall. Unsurprisingly, data from our previous Digital media trends study suggests that Gen Z males are especially drawn to gaming-focused streaming video and messaging platforms, which combine these key elements of gameplay and socialization.6
When it comes to the role of self-expression in these digital gaming environments, 88% of teen male gamers say personalizing their game character helps them to express themselves, compared with 73% of teen female gamers. Some of these differences might be explained by the types of games being played by males and females. More interactive, social, and immersive games are often played on gaming consoles. Our data shows that Gen Z teen males are far more likely to play on these devices compared to Gen Z teen females.
Despite these differences between teen male and female gamers, Gen Z teens overall are engaged with gaming and are devoting several hours of their week to play. How can game creators and gaming platforms support gaming such that it remains the go-to activity for these players as they mature? And how can gaming environments be enhanced to further support more positive interactions and healthy competition between teens with developing minds?
Recommendations for TMT leaders
- Game companies might focus on attracting and retaining teen gamers. While this cohort may not have the most spending power right now, they are forming entertainment habits that may carry through to adulthood. Teen gamers may soon evolve into adult gamers, with real money to spend.
- Teen gamers value making connections and having positive interactions while playing. Game creators and gaming platforms might put an emphasis on facilitating and encouraging positive play and dialogue, as well as addressing bullying and harassment on these platforms—especially for gamers identifying as female. Gaming companies might also consider how to increase engagement among female gamers, with new titles, novel in-game features, and partnerships.
- The immersive and interactive promise of the future metaverses will undoubtedly attract young consumers. What safeguards can metaverse developers implement to help ensure that teens continue to benefit socially and emotionally from their entertainment experiences?
- Gen Zs are drawn to gaming for its immersive and social features. What can other media formats learn from the success of gaming? How might they take these engaging elements and use them to improve their own platforms and attract new users?