We might only be on the third generation of PlayStations and Xboxes but consoles are approaching their fifth decade on the market (the 350,000-selling Magnavox Odyssey appeared in 1972). That’s a lot of time for people to form opinions about their gaming friends and relatives. We all know the usual old-school gaming stereotype – reclusive and vitamin D-deficient – but different genres and platforms have created whole new groups of people since. Or have they?
Let’s unpick some of the more pervasive rumors about gaming and gamers, beginning with an old favorite.
Gamers are Teenage Boys
An easy one to debunk – the average gamer is in their early thirties according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and the 18-30 year old “millennial” demographic accounts for only a third (29%) of all players. However, if we assume that gaming is a lifelong hobby for some players, there may have been a point fifteen years ago, around the time the PlayStation 2 still had a place under the TV, when this stereotype was true.
So, what about gender? In late 2014, media outlets like The Guardian ran with the headline “52% of gamers are women” following a 3% increase in participation in as many years, largely due to the popularity of smartphones. The problem with this statistic (this time from the Internet Advertising Bureau) is that alternative sources give different numbers – as recently as January 2017, the ESA was saying 41%, a figure that seems to be much closer to the truth.
Statista, also a 41-percenter, suggests that female participation is now in decline, falling a huge 7% in two years. That number only accounts for PC and consoles though; female players dominate in areas of gaming like bingo sites. Sun Bingo, an online gaming site offering 75, 80, and 90 ball bingo, as well as a range of slot games, can boast an audience of up to 75% female players, a third of which fall into the 25-35 demographic.
Violence is King
The idea that all gamers love blowing up their fellow man or woman in ultra-violent romps is what scared our parents in the first place – it’s also mostly true; the most popular genres in 2015 were action or shooter games at 47.4% (percentage of units sold) like Battlefield 1 and Fallout 4. Wholesome family entertainment made up just 3.6%. The strategy, racing, fighting, and adventure genres also fared poorly, with a combined tally of 22.3%.
There’s obviously a long and exhausting debate around violence and video games that we won’t get into here but genres are defined by the limited number of ways developers can represent challenge – if it’s not a puzzle or a race, it’s a fight, and almost every game falls into one (or more than one) of those categories. The notable exceptions are perhaps simulation, puzzle and exploration games, which can be much gentler experiences.
Gamers are Antisocial
Considering that almost every game coming out of major publishers EA, Activision, and Ubisoft has multiplayer and MMOs like World of Warcraft are pulling in 5.5m people at last count, this stereotype might sound bizarre. However, the idea that people who play games lack social abilities is probably a modern relic, pulled from a time when the only multiplayer available was couch co-op and gamepad-swapping.
While multiplayer has a great deal to do with increased monetization (it’s far easy to “nickel and dime” players in online games) rather than a need to get players talking, the younger generation’s fondness for Facebook and Twitter is likely to ensure that the more social gaming experience persists well into the future. As evidenced by World of Warcraft, gamers tend to return to social games in greater numbers than they do to solo ones.
So, in summary, while there are obviously people out there that embody the stereotype of the reclusive, asocial, foul-mouthed Xbox gamer, many of the most widely-held beliefs about gamers are false, either an ancient idea that hasn’t really gone away yet or a behavior perpetuated by a vocal minority of players. As far as hobbies, it’s also an increasingly inclusive one, although a great deal of immaturity may still exist in some gaming circles.