But just how accurate are these stereotypes? Recent data shows the answer is “not at all.”
With games achieving mainstream acceptance, more attention is being paid to gamers as well. Developers and publishers want to know who is playing their games so they know whom to gear future titles toward, and researchers have an academic interest in understanding the types of people video games appeal to.
So, if gamer demographics aren’t in black and white anymore, then how varied are they?
It’s not just a young boys club
First, on gender. The prevailing perception is that gamers are almost entirely male and that female players are as mythical and difficult to track down as the Loch Ness Monster.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this belief is completely false. Studies have shown the number of female gamers increasing steadily over the years, and women now make up nearly 50% of the gaming world. According to a 2012 report by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), male gamers only outnumber their female counterparts by a measly 6%.
The spread of ages is also wider than one would expect based on the image of the stereotypical gamer. That same report from the ESA put the age of the average gamer at 30, with 32% under the age of eighteen, 31% between the ages of eighteen and 35, and 37% over the age of 36.
These two pieces of information intersect in some interesting ways. For instance, despite the clichéd image of most gamers being teenaged boys, there are nearly twice as many female gamers over the age of eighteen than there are male gamers under eighteen – 30% versus 18%.
When reflecting upon demographics of work and education, another stereotype can be shot down: the image of gamers being shiftless and unemployed. According to the editors at Online Game Design Degrees and Schools (OGDDS), a full 50% of gamers work full time, and only 11% are unemployed. This is only a few points higher than the national average, currently estimated at 7.5% unemployment, and the fact that 18% are in school full time must be taken into account. 12% work or study part time, 7% are homemakers, and 2% are retired.
The image of gamers as an antisocial bunch also proves to be somewhat false, as the majority of gamers game with friends – either in person or online. Only 6% of gamers are estimated to prefer to play alone, according to the OGDDS.
The one stereotype that appears to have some truth to it, according to the statistics, is that most gamers are single. The OGDDS shows 64% of gamers as single. However, the numbers do only divide people into “married” and “single,” so one can presume that a number of those listed as single are actually in relationships.
Of the married gamers, roughly two thirds have children, and over half of those believe that games have a positive impact on their children’s lives, viewing them as a valuable source of mental stimulation or a good way to bring families together.
No statistics are available on the percentage of gamers who live in their mother’s basement, but it’s probably pretty low.
Diversity in gamers, diversity in games
It’s not surprising that gamers are such a diverse bunch when you consider how diverse games have become. The medium has blossomed over the last two decades and it’s now as varied in content as movies, television or literature.
Mainstream culture tends to put the lion’s share of its focus on flashy, violent games like “Call of Duty,” and while these are very popular, there are countless other types of games out there. There are thoughtful indie games, casual mobile games, story-driven role-playing games, economic simulators, city-builders, Wii exercise games, and more. The point has been reached where, no matter who you are, there’s probably a game out there you’d enjoy.
Of course, it’s also true that many gamers simply don’t conform to stereotypes. There are many women who will gleefully beat their opponent to proverbial paste in “Halo,” and there are many men who are more interested in “Mass Effect” for its romance arcs than its epic battle sequences.
Gamers have responded to the diversification of games, but oddly, games haven’t done as well at responding to the diversification of gamers. Many game companies still cater to very narrow demographics, with casts dominated by straight white men. Too often, female characters are relegated to nothing but eye candy at best, and minorities are very underrepresented.
The new sci-fi action game “Remember Me” recently made headlines in the gaming world when its developers revealed that they had a great deal of trouble finding a publisher for the game simply because its protagonist, the memory hunter Nilin, is female.
It’s not all bad news though. More and more games are waking up to the fact that gamers are as diverse as society itself. For instance, the developers of the “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” franchises, as well as the massively multiplayer “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” have earned praise for including prominent and well-written characters of both genders, multiple races, and a variety of sexual orientations.
One could still quibble with some aspects of their games – such as their tendency to skew female characters towards “shameless eye candy” territory – but they’re definitely making strides in the right directions, and at least those characters have some personality and depth to go with the looks.
More importantly, they have achieved great success with their games, showing that games can be both inclusive and successful.
Gaming is popular across all demographics
If there’s one thing we can learn from these numbers, it’s that gamers are not a homogenous group. They’re a diverse and varied bunch, and this means that there is space for equally diverse games. Developers and publishers who play it safe and only appeal to the same old stereotypical demographics risk missing out on a lot of potential fans.