The Entertainment Software Association puts out a PDF every year with a variety of gamer statistics, such as average age, gender, and so on. I started looking them up in support of an argument I was going to make, realized the data might have proven the exact opposite thing, then decided “what the hell” and tossed it up into a Google Doc. Here are some simple graphs that may or may not prove useful to someone, somewhere:
As you might notice, the average age of gamers plummeted in 2012. This was a result of the ESA changing the wording of their questionnaire, turning anyone who played one hour per week of a game on a smartphone or iPad into a “gamer.” Incidentally, people who played 10 hours per week were considered “serious gamers,” which I believe automatically applies to anyone who has ever played an MMO. It’s kinda funny though, in that playing games more than an 1.5 hours/day is “serious,” but (Americans) watching more than 5 hours of live TV a day is average. Casuals, indeed.
The above chart is a breakdown of the three age ranges into percentages of the whole. This is where my original argument got tripped up. You see, I was trying to refute the “these days gamers are getting older/having kids/etc and thus have less time to play” argument. I mean, it makes sense as a talking point when speaking to one’s own peer group, but the average number of years a person has been gaming hasn’t increased all that much (see chart 1). In this chart however, it’s pretty clear that the under-18 crowd went from about 35% of all gamers down to sub-20% across seven years. So yeah, maybe we’re all growing up. Or more older non-gamers are joining, which may as well be the same thing.
If you are wondering what happened to 2012-2014 numbers, well, the ESA decided change the age ranges for basically no reason. Seriously, under-18, 18-35, and 36+? I mean, I guess that isolates the COD crew better? I’m not going to bother with a graph for just those three years though, so here is a table:
I included the 2003 data in there simply because it happened to have those same age ranges on it.
Finally, here is a gender chart for the curious:
And there you go. Hopefully that was useful to someone, somewhere. If you want to see the figures yourself, the Google Doc includes links to all 14 PDFs. Go nuts.
If you are confused as to what this #GamerGate thing is… you are not alone. Because it really isn’t one thing any more, but a series of things that have all sort of been mixed together. For a summary of ongoing events, I recommend this Forbes article. In the meantime, I wanted to touch on the three main elements in reverse order.
I pretty much agree with the recent Slate article titled “Gaming Journalism is Over.”
The attacks on the press have ranged from well-reasoned to offensive to paranoid, but the gaming journalists unwisely decided to respond to the growing, nebulous anger by declaring that “gamers” were dead. Such articles appeared concurrently in Gamasutra (“ ‘Gamers’ are over” and “A guide to ending ‘gamers’ ”), Destructoid (“There are gamers at the gate, but they may already be dead”), Kotaku (“We might be witnessing the ‘death of an identity’ ”) and Rock, Paper, Shotgun (“Gamers are over”), as well as Ars Technica (“The death of the ‘gamers’ ”), Vice (“Killing the gamer identity”) and BuzzFeed (“Gaming is leaving ‘gamers’ behind”). These articles share some traits in common besides their theses: They are unconvincing, lacking in hard evidence, and big on wishful thinking. A good number of them link to an obscure blog post by academic Dan Golding, “The End of Gamers,” which argues, again without evidence, that “the gamer identity has been broken” and that the current unrest “is an attempt to retain hegemony.” Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson linked to a similarly obtuse piece of academic argot (“ ‘Gamer’ is selfish … conservative … tribalistic”), which in Grayson’s words “breaks down the difference between ‘gamer’ as a manufactured identity versus loving games on multiple levels.” I’ve written essays comparing games to the work of artist Kurt Schwitters and poet Kenneth Rexroth, and even I can’t muster this level of vacuous self-importance on the subject.
Returning to the real world, the biggest problem with all these claims is that they are demonstrably untrue. A quick glance at financials shows that “gamers” are not going anywhere. If “gamers” really are dying, no one told the marketing departments for these publications, which continue to trumpet their “gamer” demographic to advertisers. What is going on instead is projection. As long as these journalists held a monopoly on gaming coverage, they could maintain a dismal relationship with their audience in spite of the fact that “most games coverage is almost indistinguishable from PR,” in the words of disaffected game columnist Robert Florence, who himself wrote about corruption in gaming journalism before quitting Eurogamer. But all that’s changing with the rise of long-form amateur gaming journalism and game commentating on YouTube and Twitch.tv, the latter of which was just bought by Amazon for $1 billion as the gaming press was declaring the end of gamers.
I am not entirely sure whether there is anything to add to that.
Well, I guess I will say that this “reckoning” (assuming anything at all actually changes) was a long time in coming. After all, how long have we existed with a review rubric in which numbers 1-6 did not exist on the 10-point scale? Professional gaming journalism simply doesn’t occur without the “charity” of the game developers’ review copies, or access for interviews, or any number of similar perks that understandably evaporate into the ether the moment an honest reviewer costs the company tens of thousands of sales. I was given a free Press™ pass for Darkfall: Unholy Alliance, but do I anticipate another such email from Aventurine? No, I do not. Unless perhaps I’m such small fries that their PR person doesn’t bother purging the rolls. (Assuming they still have a job.)
But even these small perks are becoming increasingly irrelevant in an age of paid Alphas and Steam Early Releases. With the notable exception of Hearthstone, I pretty much have had the same access to the games I have written about as anyone who reads the posts. Obviously, “real” game journalists get all-expenses paid trips to conventions and hands-on impressions with AAA games that might be coming out, but the margin between gatekeeper and gamer is narrowing. You don’t need to trust an established game journalist as to whether the latest release is worth $60 anymore, assuming you could trust them in the first place – just play the alpha/beta/early release yourself.
Indeed, at this point the most valuable person in gaming is whomever is out there telling you that a given game exists at all.
Who Are Gamers?
If I were being a purist, I would argue that Bhagpuss’ inadvertent definition is best:
And that’s probably at the root of why I don’t identify as a Gamer. It’s not an age thing. It’s a prestige thing. After university, where having the high score on Galaxians was something to be envied, I rarely encountered any social situation where identifying as a Gamer wouldn’t have been socially damaging.
In other words, you are a Gamer if you say you are a Gamer, accepting all the consequences of the admission.
I will admit a certain level of envy for the gamers just now entering high school, as they will likely not experience near the abuse that my generation (and older) endured when gaming was the reserved domain of nerds and outcasts. No doubt it was the same for comic book readers and others. There is indeed a sense of belonging that occurs amongst a persecuted group, and yes, identity. However, any sense of diminishment by widespread gaming acceptance is purely psychological. And, frankly, backwards.
Your identity as a Gamer should be tied to your unashamed passion for games. Full stop. Anything extra is a separate, superfluous identity you tacked on after the fact. “I liked this thing when it was hard to do so.” Great… so you are a Gamer and a Pariah. Do you want a cookie?
Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, etc
There really is no conclusion to this post, other than a rather mild surprise as to how much has melted down in the past three weeks or so. Seven gaming publications basically simultaneously asserting their readers no longer exist (or are horrible)? Who the shit has the time to browse internet articles about games but Gamers? Hell, I didn’t even play a game today due to reading gaming forums and writing this post.
Nevertheless, gaming journalism is one area in which I believe a total breakdown in “the establishment” will have a good outcome in the long-run. I mean, right now we have highly politicized real-world news monopolies (Fox vs CNN vs MSNBC) that only serve to insulate and divide people from alternate viewpoints. That’s bad. But the same thing really can’t exist in the gaming world because we ultimately play the games. If the game is shit, it’s shit, no matter who told you it was roses. And now you have 10,000 alternative voices that will admittedly likely coalesce into a few power-brokers, but again, reality will be the final arbiter.