Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Facts and Figures: Debunking the stereotypical gamer

In recent days I have found myself explaining my blog and gaming in general to a lot of non-gamers. While some people seem to have a pretty good grasp of the industry, I sometimes find myself becoming defensive in these conversations and feeling the need to justify my passion. While I don't feel that ignorance of the industry is born out of malice, I have come to the realization that there are a great many people who are simply unplugged from something I take for granted. With this in mind, I thought I would provide a few facts and figures that I feel could enhance the non-gamers understanding of gaming and are hopefully interesting for gamers as well.

Before jumping in, I would like to offer a few caveats. First, the statistics I have pulled are mostly the results of some reasonably quick Google searches, they may not be the best and certainly would require more research before being included in any sort of legitimate essay. That said, they should serve the purpose of providing general information and I have tried to pull from a variety of sources to lend some sort of legitimacy. Second, some of the points I make are disputable, I do my best to elaborate the counter-position where applicable. Finally, I freely admit my own bias in this matter (I love games and wish everyone did the same) and make no apologies for cherry-picking points though I don't think that anything I state below is blatant fabrication or pure falsehood.

The Stereotype
The negatively stereotyped gamer is described as a male social outcast who lives in their parents basement indulging in a juvenile unhealthy activity on the fringes of acceptable hobbies. Let's break this down into its components:

Gamers are overwhelmingly male...
While it is true that women are a minority in the industry, the divide is much less egregious than demographics for CEOs among Fortune 1000 companies (about 5% women1) or European Politics (only 30% of MEPs are women2). In fact, most surveys suggest 40% of gamers are women 3; not parity but clearly not an overwhelming minority.

Gamers are social outcasts...
If the definition being a social outcast is refusing to interact or work with other humans then it is pretty hard to shoe-horn gamers into this category. MMOs, arguably the most popular genre of gaming (World of Warcraft peaked with just over 11 million monthly subscribers), are all about working with fellow players and are frequently cited as nurturing desirable management skills4. Beyond this, over 40% of games feature a multi-player component5, this implies that a huge portion of games are designed specifically with social interaction in mind.

Gamers are juvenile/marginally employed...
The truth is that the employment demographics for gamers are about as broad as any other hobby you can imagine. In fact, gamers come "from middle income households"6 and are, on average, 34 years old7; that is about as wide of a demographic that can be imagined short of "pretty much everybody". The reality is that gamers can be the local teen flipping burgers to your congressman (Jared Polis represents Colorado's second district and has gone on record numerous times stating his passion for League of Legends).

Gaming is unhealthy...
Intuitively, games should be no less healthy than watching television. However, when you consider that the top selling game of all time, by a landslide, is Wii Sports8, a game which utilizes motion controls to have a player running in place, swinging their arms, and doing jumping jacks I think it is fair to concede that games offer some potential to promote activity (at very least more so than television). I don't think anyone is going to successfully claim that video games are inherently healthy but to suggest that they are worse than other sedentary activities seems patently false. The other health claims against games are that they can negatively influence behavior and are in part accountable for school shootings and other such violent activity. To this, most studies that back this claim have been debunked in peer review and reputable studies suggest that violent video games are less impactful on behaviour than violent television9. I think a lot of the push to blame games for violent behaviour is motivated by a desire to explain horrific situations. Unfortunately, these behaviours are the culmination of a multitude of factors of which gaming is unlikely to be a significant one.

Gaming is a fringe past-time...
This is probably the biggest misconception of them all. Most people are surprised to hear that the gaming industry is as big, if not larger than, the movie industry. While a direct comparison of revenue between the industries can be difficult to produce, I think two numbers do a pretty good job of telling the story. The worldwide box office take for movies in 2012 was approximately 34.7 billion USD10 and the total sales figures for video games was a projected 78 billion USD11. Again, these figures are not directly comparable as the film industry makes a ton of additional revenue from home movie sales and games generally cost more than a night out at the movies, but, no matter how you shake it, games are big money at in, at very least, the same ballpark as the film industry. The irony here, of course, is that no one would ever consider going to the movies to be a fringe activity. Indeed, in South Korea, gaming is so popular that entire television stations are dedicated to broadcasting news and analysis akin to ESPN12. I think gaming is unduly dismissed as a fringe activity.

All told, I think the stereotypical gamer is laughably far from the truth. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the stereotype has perpetuated and often forms the basis for an understanding of the industry for non-gamers. I hope that the points I have made above will help to enlighten those who don't follow the industry or understand my passion that is shared by so many people. In parting, below are some interesting gaming facts that didn't quite fit with the above structure.

The first video game is not Pong by almost any definition...

... however Pong was featured on the first home console (Magnovox Odyssey)

Nintendo dominates top selling games of all time list (19 out of the top 30 games)

The top YouTube Channel in the world (PewDiePie) is gaming related

GameThoery did an excellent analysis on PewDiePie's popularity

Games as Art? The debate rages... a topic for another day?

2   http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=2052&langId=en
3   http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp
5   http://penny-arcade.com/report/article/the-incredible-disappearing-multiplayer-mp-features-are-disappearing-and-no
7   http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp