The Surprising Truth about Stereotypes of Online Gamers
You know online gamers. They’re overweight, lazy, socially inept, awkward, and prefer the darkness of a blackened-out room with only the pixels of a monitor or TV lighting the way.
All they do in their spare hours — and some in their not-so-spare hours — is sit in front of a screen and play their video games. They are mostly young teenaged boys, too.
The surprising truth of these gamer stereotypes is only that they aren’t true. Not for most gamers anyway.
For answers to gamer stereotypes, we turn to German researchers Kowert et al (2014), who studied 2,551 Germans who took part in a randomized, voluntary telephone survey in 2011.
While most online players in this survey were indeed male — 70 percent — those who played primarily offline games were female (54 percent). So that gender stereotype doesn’t hold up well either, as it depends upon the kind of video game that’s being played.
Are they mostly teenagers? Nope. The average age of online video game players in this survey was 34 years old. For offline players, the average age was even older — 45. And age was about the only significant difference the researchers found between those who played video games, and those who didn’t:
Contrary to predictions, broad differences were not found between online and nonplayers. The only significant difference to emerge between these groups was age, as online players were found to be significantly younger than offline or nonplayers.
In fact, the researchers could find little evidence to support most of the stereotypes around gamers:
The lack of overarching differences between online, offline, and nonplayers signifies that most the components of the stereotype are not empirically supported.
Online players do not seem to be more lazy, overweight, or unathletic than offline or nonplaying participants, as they all reported similar levels of exercise, nor are particularly unpopular, socially inept, isolated, or reclusive, as online players reported equivalent levels of quality friendships and sociability as compared to the other groups, as well as a greater social motivation to play than offline players.
Ah, but wait… There is one important exception to this data. Video game players who exhibit problematic gaming behaviors — such as salience, tolerance, mood changes, conflict, spending all of their free time playing, to the detriment of their family, social life, job or school — are also more likely to fit the stereotypes we have about gamers:
[We] did uncover significant inverse relationships between involvement and frequency of exercise, occupational success, and social support, suggesting that more involved online video game players are more unathletic, underachieving in their occupational pursuits in relation to their peers, and less socially supported than the broader video game playing population or the subgroup of offline players.
The usual limitations of this study apply. Telephone surveys — what people say they do — aren’t quite the same as getting data from direct measurement. And Germans gamers may not be the same as Americans, or share the same characteristics.
Gaming — like all things in life — should be done in moderation. But most people who play video games don’t fit the stereotype of someone who plays a video game. Which is just another reminder of how empirical data can blow holes in our common wisdom.
Kowert, R. et al. (2014). a href=’http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cyber.2013.0118′ target=’newwin’>Unpopular, Overweight, and Socially Inept: Reconsidering the Stereotype of Online Gamers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17, 141-146. doi:10.1089/cyber.2013.0118.
Grohol, J. (2014). The Surprising Truth about Stereotypes of Online Gamers. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/03/06/the-surprising-truth-about-stereotypes-of-online-gamers/