Does Playing Games Make You a 'Gamer'?

Does Playing Games Make You a 'Gamer'?
Does simply playing video games make you a "gamer"? According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, the answer appears to be no: While 49 percent of American adults play video games, only 10 percent consider themselves "gamers."

Gaming is in the midst of a shift, as mobile and social games put the opportunity for play in everyone's pocket. And the question of who fits into the gamer identity has bubbled up several times over the past few years, as more people play video games and blockbuster titles gain more prominence in mainstream pop culture. Yet from the conversations Gamergate sparked about who's welcome in the gaming community to continued discussion about games in the wake of mass shootings, it's clear that video games still carry a certain stigma - despite the fact that nearly half of the population plays games.

Things get even more intriguing when you drill down into the data. Even though men and women play games in nearly equal numbers, the Pew study found that men are twice as likely to call themselves gamers, with 15 percent of men versus 6 percent of women identifying with the term. Among those ages 18 to 29, 33 percent of men say that the term gamer describes them well, as opposed to 9 percent of women.

Pew didn't ask its respondents why they don't identify as gamers even though they play games. But some of the explanation may come from how gamers are perceived more generally.

For example, the study found that most women, even those who play games, believe that most of the people who play games are men. That belief, perhaps surprisingly, is substantially higher among the youngest age group of respondents: 71 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think that's how demographics break down, though men and women of this age are equally likely to play games.

Women in general are also more likely to believe that people who play video games are more likely to be violent themselves - 47 percent versus 31 percent of men. Even among those who play games, far fewer women disagree with that statement than men.

To date, researchers have found no evidence that violent video games cause a tendency toward violent behavior. The American Psychological Association has drawn a connection between games and higher levels of aggression, but not that playing violent games causes violent acts. Overall, a slight majority of 53 percent of those surveyed said that they don't believe there's any link between those who play violent video games and a tendency toward violent behavior.

The survey also asked respondents how they think games fare at portraying women and minorities, but found that most people don't really have an opinion. 47 percent of adults said they're not sure whether games portray minorities poorly; 40 percent said the same about depictions of women.

More than anything, the Pew study shows that while video games are popular, those who play them still face some stigma from the public at large. Nearly a quarter of all those surveyed said that most games are a waste of time, with an additional third saying that's true of some, though not all, titles.

And while gaming advocates - backed up with some research of their own - have touted the cognitive and social benefits of playing games, that message doesn't seem to have gone through, with a minority of respondents discounting the benefits of games altogether.

A roughly equal number of people agree (17 percent) and disagree (16 percent) with the statement "Video games help develop good problem solving and strategic thinking skills." Nearly a quarter of adults disagree with the idea that most video games "promote teamwork and communication," as compared to 10 percent who do. (37 percent say some games do, while others don't.)

On balance, those who play games tended to be their greatest defenders. They're far more likely to disagree with the negative sentiments toward gaming, and agree with the positive. For example, 25 percent of adults who play games say they think most games develop good problem-solving skills. Yet even among game-players, there's still some acknowledgment that there are some issues to address in regard to gender: 16 percent of those who play games - and 29 percent of those who identify as gamers - say that "most" video games portray women in a negative light.

© 2015 The Washington Post

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