Survey Says Gaming Isn’t Just For the Nerdy. Or Is It?

By  |  Monday, December 8, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Did you think computer and video games were just a hobby for geeky Otakus and adolescent boys? A new study from from the Pew Internet and American Life Project suggests otherwise, claiming that more than half of American adults play.

Here’s how the AP paints the picture:

After a day of dirty diapers and “Dora the Explorer,” of laundry and homework time, when her four kids are finally asleep, Sarah Ninesling begins roaming the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., fighting mutants to help save the survivors of a nuclear war.

It turns out this stay-at-home mom plays Fallout 3, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online to blow off steam. But this anecdote is deceptive, as most gamers aren’t so hardcore.

We’ve seen studies like this before, showing how games are a hobby enjoyed by many. Industry advocates like the Entertainment Consumers Association love touting these stats when defending the medium. But the side of gaming that looks ugly in the eyes of concerned parents, politicians, and Jack Thompson remains a niche, despite what Pew tells you.

Writing for VentureBeat, Chris Morrison said that your Halo and World of Warcraft players are roughly 20 million strong. By comparison, the contingent of gamers that prefer simpler entertainments such as Bejeweled, Diner Dash, and Solitaire is comprised of 200 million people, and the “casual games” industry that makes the latter titles contends that their audience is even larger.

Certainly, the games you choose add nuance to statistics on play, but how often you enjoy them also has a role. A survey of online gamers from 2006 by Parks Associates found that the “power gamers” that account for 30 percent of retail revenue are just 11 percent of the online gaming population. The majority are “social, liesure and dormant” gamers.

I should still be happy with Pew’s study, as it suggests games are relevant to people of all ages.  But then again, we knew that already. No one stops playing chess when they get older, and the same should be true for timeless digital diversions like Tetris and Solitaire. But the inference that most people slay dragons and shoot radioactive mutants in their spare time? That’s just misleading.

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