There is no questioning that the modern “gamer” is often misrepresented and misunderstood. The gaming industry has dramatically changed in the last 20 years and with the rise of console games and the increasingly large number of “free to play” games that are available in app stores, the “casual” gaming experience is on the rise too: reflecting an entirely new demographic of players. In Shira Chess and Nathaniel Evans’ paper “What Does a Gamer Look Like,” they emphasize a shift away from the stereotypical image of a heterosexual male that many people imagine when they think gamer, citing statistical evidence that almost half of individuals playing video games today are women. Is this shift a result of changing perceptions of the video game industry or are there other factors at play, such as the type of games that are being made?
While hardcore games such as first person shooters may be still dominated by men, games like Words with Friends 2 attract an entirely different audience- outside of the image of a gamer that we traditionally subscribe to. This isn’t to say that females don’t play MMO’s and first person shooters but, as Chess points out, that the number of females playing these games are far fewer than their male counterparts. Even more surprisingly, Chess and Evans suggest that the females that do play these games, are less likely to use voice chat and similar features, possibly pointing out that the misperception of what a “gamer” looks like, puts pressure on females, forcing them to play other, “more casual” games.
As an experiment, I queued up 20 random matches in Words With Friends 2 in order to get a sense of the demographic that’s playing the game. Of the 20 matches that I started, 14 of them were women and I assume that this trend would continue even if I had a larger sample size. As Chess and Evans posit in their paper, it is clear that there are plenty of women playing video games, but I would suggest that this statistic has more to do with a change in the gaming industry than it has to do with the actual “gamer.”
With the increasingly large number of casual games on the market that you can play at the click of a button, such as Words with Friends or Candy Crush, video games are reaching larger and larger numbers of people, with only a small percentage of games falling under the “hardcore” category that is largely dominated by males. As a result the demographic of people that play video games is becoming more and more balanced among all types of people, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. In the end, it isn’t exactly clear what accounts for this shift in “what a gamer looks like”, but with the increasing number of games on the market that are being marketed to individuals outside of the “traditional” straight white male version of a gamer, it is no surprise that more people want to play.