VOLUME 17 #1

Volume 16#3 cover

DEPARTMENTS

Online gamers found to play against stereotypes

RESEARCH | The stereotype of online gamers as obese teenage boys may be common, but it also may be wrong. Instead, a new study finds that such players are older and fitter than the U.S. general population, and a surprising number are female.

Scott Caplan, AS ’95M, associate professor of communication, working with colleagues from the University of Southern California and the Palo Alto Research Center, studied 7,000 players of the online game EverQuest2, a game with a virtual world where players create characters and interact.

The study, whose results were reported recently in an article subtitled, “Debunking the Stereotypical Gamer Profile” in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, found that the average EverQuest2 player is 31 and that almost 20 percent are female.

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“Although there are not as many women playing,” Caplan says, “they play more than the men, which goes against the stereotype of the adolescent male who’s the compulsive gamer.”

Researchers, who gathered the data through a survey that appeared inside the game, calculated gamers’ body mass index (BMI), a measure of fitness. The average BMI for the U.S. population is 28. The gamers’ average BMI is 25.1.

Gamers reported higher-than-average rates of substance abuse and depression, and Caplan says the question now is “Why?” The stereotypical response might be to assume that gaming is responsible for their poor mental health, but he suggests that the flip side of that argument must also be considered.

“If gaming actually helps people who have mental health problems, and they are turning to it because of the benefits, then knowing that gives us a way to look at games as having therapeutic value,” he says.

Article by Andrea Boyle, AS ’02

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