Teens and games: what the latest data says

By John Koetsier May 14, 2024

Most teens play games. Most teens play games to be social. And most teens play games on multiple platforms. But there are some significant differences between girls and boys, and between those who identify as gamers and those who do not. And there’s some big differences of opinion on whether games are actually good for teens.

Pew Research recently surveyed 1,453 U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 on their gaming habits across all platforms. 

I was particularly interested in their research because Adjoe just released its 2024 Mobile Games Index, and one of that report’s key findings was shocking: older adults game more. 

This was counterintuitive to me at first, but when you dig a bit deeper, it makes sense.

Adult super gamers?!?

According to the Adjoe data, adults aged 40-49 are the most engaged gamers, with daily sessions averaging 23 minutes: up a third since 2023. 

Kids, on the other hand, spent less time in games: 0-19 year-olds, who were the most engaged in 2023, spent less time playing than any other age group: under 21 minutes.

The Adjoe data is compelling, not least because it’s based on a huge amount of data: 95 million interactions with popular mobile games from more 27 million users in about 6,000 Android apps. (Clearly ATT and Apple’s other privacy initiatives have made it harder to gather data from iOS users.)

The difference, of course, is that the Adjoe data is about gamers because it’s based on a self-selected audience of gamers. The Pew data is a representative sample of kids: gamers and non-gamers. Plus the Adjoe data contains a lot of pre-teens, which is an entirely different demographic.

But both datasets are interesting and valuable in different ways.

Shocker: teens love games on most platforms

So it’s no shock: 85% of U.S. teens say they play video games. Not quite half, 41%, say they play games daily, and about that same percentage identify as “gamers.”

While 97% of boys play games and 85% of girls play games, boys are about 50% more likely to identify as gamers. 62% of boys identify as gamers, versus 40% of girls. 


who plays games


(Interestingly, we saw something related in a Growth Masterminds episode recently on gaming: a reluctance to label those who just play games on mobile — as opposed to console or desktop — as gamers.)

Boys are also much more likely than girls to play daily:

  • 61% of boys play daily
    • 36% multiple times daily
  • 22% of girls play daily
    • 11% multiple times daily

What platforms do they play on?

Pretty much every single platform. Interestingly, while console and phone lead, virtual reality headsets have surprisingly wide distribution: more than I would have expected.

  • Console: 73%
  • Phone: 70%
  • Computer: 49%
  • Tablet: 33%
  • VR: 24%

The one device that girls are more likely to play games on than boys is probably not a surprise: their phones. 79% of girls play games on their phones compared to 61% of boys; on all other platforms boys tend to play more games than girls.

Teens, games, and friends: gaming is social

It probably shouldn’t be surprising to us in these days of declining “third spaces,” but games are intensely social, especially for teens. (Homes and schools/offices are 2 primary spaces we live in; malls, theaters, parks, and coffee shops used to be more prominent third spaces to meet and be social.)

Socializing with others is a key part of the video game experience, says Pew. 89% of teens who play games do it with others, and almost half have made a friend online because of a video game.

Only 11% play games entirely alone.

Teens who identify as gamers are the most likely to play games socially: 98% of them say they play games with others, and 68% have made at least 1 friend online. This is legit a thing: it’s fairly common to see posts about gamer friends finally meeting IRL … in this case, two young men met for the first time after playing Xbox for 20 years together, with 1 serving as the other’s best man at his wedding.


teens and games IRL


It’s not just about IRL either: teen gamers “stand out” for their use of Discord and Twitch, Pew says. 44% of teen gamers use Discord, while 30% use Twitch.

Teens generally think they spend the right amount of time gaming

From personal experience, parents are likely to disagree, but most teams say they spend about the right amount of time gaming. Only 13% said they spent too much time gaming, though boys are almost 4X more likely than girls to worry about that.

  • 58%: right amount
  • 14%: too little
  • 13%: too much

Close to 4 out of 10 teens say they’ve cut back their video game playing time at least once in their lives.


4 out of 10 teens say they’ve cut back their video game playing time at least once


That’s a relevant finding right now as parents are joining a wave of lawsuits alleging that games like NBA 2K, Grand Theft Auto, and Roblox are causing “brain damage, a stroke, and seizures,” in at least 1 case. These lawsuits are targeting big gaming developers with deep pockets like Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Roblox, and Epic Games, Bloomberg says.

Many teens, however, say that games are good for them:

  • 56%: Improve problem-solving skills
  • 47%: Help their friendships
  • 41%: Show them how to work with others
  • 32%: Boost their mental health

A negative that teens do admit, however, is that games aren’t great for the amount of sleep they get: 41% say they’ve gamed too much and slept too little. And teens who say they play too much are most likely to also say they get too little sleep and spend too little time on homework.

Also, 43% of teens who play games say they’ve been harassed or bullied while playing, including 8% who were sent unwanted sexual images. 80% of teens agree that bullying while playing games is a problem.

Why teens play games: not just fun

We generally play games to have fun, so it’s not a shock that 87% say fun or entertainment is a core reason they play games. But 72% also say that spending time with others is important.

Competition is another big reason — especially for those who identify as gamers — and learning new things is a factor for 50% of teens who play games.

Judging by the Adjoe data, adults play games at similar if not higher levels than teens, though I suspect much more on phones than consoles or computers. 

Growing games: the next few years

Games jumped massively in engagement and use during COVID, dropped somewhat in 2022, and rebounded in the past year, according to Adjoe. At Singular, we’re seeing similar things, although some app categories like entertainment, medical/health/fitness, and sports are growing faster. 

And former Unity CEO John Riccitiello says that generative AI will double or triple the size of the gaming industry in the coming years.

We’ll see: coming phones and consoles and computers will have AI-specific chips that can run complex LLMs and other AI features. 

Of course, when games start having truly intelligent NPCs powered by technology like GPT-4o, we’re also going to have even more interesting discussions on how healthy and how engaging games will be … and what a game is … and why people game.

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