You know gamers… They’re teenagers or young adults, slothful, lazy, without motivation and spend all of their time, well, gaming. They’re also typically unattractive, probably fat, and are pale from spending so much time indoors playing video games.
Well, if this is your idea of someone who plays video games, unfortunately your idea is pretty much completely wrong. Sorry.
So says new research just published from German researchers who examined 2,550 actual video game players.
The typical gamer stereotype is hard to miss from people who typically don’t play many video games:
“[online] game players are stereotypically male and young, pale from too much time spent indoors and socially inept. As a new generation of isolated and lonely ‘couch potatoes,’ young male game players are far from aspirational figures.”
An empirical inquiry by Kowert et al. found that the stereotype of online gamers revolves around four themes: (un)popularity, (un)attractiveness, idleness, and social (in)competence. The researchers also found evidence to suggest that these negative characterizations have become personally endorsed as accurate representations of the online gaming community.
Kowert et al. (2013) set to test whether this stereotype was true or not.
Sampling and recruiting for the study was conducted using a two-stage approach. First, a representative sample of 50,000 individuals aged 14 and older who were asked about their gaming behavior in an omnibus telephone survey.
Then, from this sample, 4,500 video game players were called for a second telephone interview, from which the current data were collected. Only those participants who completed all of the questions relating to video game play were retained for the current analysis, which resulted in 2,550 subjects in the final study.
The researchers said,
As there is little empirical evidence relating to the broader online gaming playing population, and the validity of the stereotype of this group, this study is largely exploratory. However, if one were to endorse the “kernel of truth” hypothesis, and assume the stereotype is grounded in fact, one would expect online game players to display more stereotypic qualities than offline video game players or nonplayers. These patterns should also be magnified amongst more involved online game players.
So what did they find?
Not surprising to most gamers, the researchers did not find the large, broad differences between gamers and non-gamers. The one big difference they did find? Age. “The only significant difference to emerge between these groups was age, as online players were found to be significantly younger than offline or nonplayers,” the researchers said. “However, the average online player was found to be in their 30s, rather than their teenage years, disputing the anecdotal prototype and confirming previous demographic findings.”
Not teenagers or young adults, but middle-aged adults.
Based upon their empirical data, the researchers conclude:
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.
However, the researchers did find that those who played video games all the time — to the detriment of their ordinary lives — did suffer. “A positive relationship between involvement and problematic play amongst online players also emerged, indicating that the greater involvement one has in online gaming as an activity, the greater likelihood one will exhibit the qualities associated with problematic play (e.g., salience, tolerance, mood modification, relapse, withdrawal, conflict, and problems).”
In other words, if you let video games become your reason for waking up in the morning, not surprisingly the rest of your life will suffer. Which is pretty much true of any activity that consumes you — working, training to become a world-class athlete, watching a TV show marathon, model trains, you name it.
But for the vast majority of gamers, this study demonstrates that those who enjoy playing video games really are just normal, every day people. Like you and I.
Rachel Kowert, Ruth Festl, and Thorsten Quandt. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/cyber.2013.0118.