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Playing games is more than a hobby for me. Games are how I bonded with my brothers growing up. Games are how I met some of my best and closest friends. Games are how I met my eventual husband from one thousand miles away.

Games are a part of who I am. Although I don’t play as frequently as I did when I was in school, games are inseparably woven into the fabric of my life story. Whether I’m playing a 30-hour week over a holiday break or barely squeezing in a few hours during a busy work month, I always consider myself a gamer.

I’ve met people along the way who enjoy games but don’t identify with the term. For me, it’s so much about the culture and less about the hours or types of games I play.

How is it different for other game players? What does it mean to be a gamer?

When I set out to answer these questions, I was going to work out the knots by writing an essay describing conversations and experiences over my 25 years of gamer geekdom. Instead of taking guesses, I decided to set up a survey and let the data speak for itself. Three days, 8 brief questions, and 377 completed surveys later, we’ve got a story to tell.

The survey takers are random and represent all ages. They came primarily from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Social media’s awesome for collecting lots of data quickly, but there’s a downside. This data may be biased depending on the social networks’ demographics.

So basically, take this data with a grain of salt. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting!

The big questions I was keen on were “Do you consider yourself a gamer?” and “Why or why not?” Age, gender, gaming platforms, and genres are the supporting questions that help us paint a picture. I’m quite interested in finding patterns in what makes a gamer a gamer, and why other game players aren’t “gamers”.

Oh, and one more thing. You’ll see the terms “gamer”, “non-gamer”, and “game player” here. Nearly all (more than 99%) of the survey takers are game players – whether or not they consider themselves a gamer. A “non-gamer” is someone who is a game player but doesn’t identify with the term “gamer”. On to the meat and potatoes!

Are gamers men or women?

Let’s just get this part out of the way. The great gender discussion. Are men more likely to be self-professed gamers than women?

Yes, but not by much. Out of ALL the gamers, most of them were men.

(Heads up: larger studies show game players in 2012 to be 53% male, 47% female. More and more women are getting into the game every year!) The number of gaming men and women is close to the actual ratio of men to women in this study who play games.

OK, but what about within the genders? These graphs don’t tell us how many non-“gamer” vs. undecided gamers there are. More men are self-professed gamers, and the “unsure” camp is even. Not a huge difference here.

The bottom line on the battle of the sexes: although you’re more likely to play games if you’re male, your gender has little to do with whether or not you consider yourself a gamer.

How old are gamers?

So is your game-playing mom just as likely to call herself a gamer as your teen sister? Let’s find out.

First, let’s look at how many people in each age group play games. A whopping 43% are 26-35. The chart says there were no 66-75 year olds, but there was actually one that’s represented. (Gold star for you, whoever you are! Way to represent.)

Most game players who took the survey are 18-45. But looking at the bigger picture, age seemed to be correlated with the likelihood of calling themselves a gamer.

Holy cannoli! Look at the difference between the youngest and (almost) oldest group! The vast majority of kids who took the survey are self-professed gamers. As the age groups progress, more uncertainty and non-gamer preferences show up. (Our one respondent for the 66-75 set is a proud gamer, but one response can’t represent the entire population – so we’ll focus more on the 56-65 set. Sorry, gamer friend.)

The younger a game player is, the more likely they are to consider themselves a gamer.

How many hours do gamers play?

The data in this survey is pretty consistent to what you would probably guess: the fewer hours of games played every week, the less likely someone would consider themselves a gamer.

For those who play 30+ hours of games every week, to quote a respondent: “If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck”… it’s probably a gamer. No big surprises here.

How about the average number of hours played? Self-professed gamers play the most hours at an average of 15-22 hours per week. (That’s 2-3 hours per day! Fun way to relax after a hard day of work.)

The non-gamers played the least out of the bunch with an average of 4-9 hours per week. The undecided were right in between at 8-14 hours per week.

What types of games do gamers play?

I grew up surrounded by video games in the ‘80s and ‘90s during the rise of games such as DOOM and QUAKE, and competitive game-inspired movies such as STREET FIGHTER (my guilty pleasure). There seemed to be this overly simplistic idea that a “gamer” was someone who played hardcore/violent/tournament-style games.

Ummm, this was not the case for my young gamer self. I dabbled in fighting games, but my favorites reached beyond into all sorts of wonderful genres.

Did my survey debunk the generalization that gamers are all about first-person shooters?

Yes and no.

You may have to squint to see the difference between these columns – each one represents a different game genre. Blue is the proportion of those who play that type of game and consider themselves a gamer. Green are non-gamers.

The popular choice for outspoken gamers here are Alternate Reality Games (ARG) – games that take place on a variety of platforms and follow real-world events, often shifting direction based on the actions of the players. It’s a very immersive style of gaming as the lines between the game and reality are blurred.

A close second for gamers are, yup – First-Person Shooters (FPS). These are games where your field of view is from the main character’s perspective and usually involves weapon combat.

Role Playing Games (RPG) round out gamers’ third choice. Each player takes on a character that has specific skills, and players may work with or against each other to achieve certain outcomes. Where FPS’s are usually limited to a screen, many RPGs can be played virtually or as a tabletop game.

Trends among “non-gamers” here show a variety of casual games: Word, Puzzle, Hidden Object, Trivia, Card, and even Sports.

What’s really rad is that “gamers” and “non-gamers” alike play the full gamut of genres. No matter what you call yourself, play what speaks to you!

What platforms do gamers use?

The modern rise of the term “gamer” seems to focus on virtual games – games played behind a screen. But don’t forget that there’s a whole world of fun in tabletop gaming. And with mobile thrown into the mix, we’re seeing the rise of new game fans.

I asked survey takers to choose how they like to game:

-          On a console (such as the Wii, Xbox360, and Playstation)

-          On a PC or laptop

-          On a mobile device (both tablets and smartphones fall into this category)

-          Games that don’t require a screen to play (this includes board games, live-action role playing games, card games, and more)

Again, you’ll have to squint to see the difference between these results. Console and PC/laptop games edged out as favorites among gamers, while mobile and offline games were popular with the non-gaming crowd.

So all this cool data tells us exactly who a gamer is, right?

Here’s the thing. Does the gaming platform determine the likelihood of a player calling themselves a “gamer”? We don’t need to stop there. What about age? How many hours they play? All the stuff we just talked about?

As data scientists like to say: CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION. That means just because the information here suggests that a “gamer” is a 17-year-old male who likes to play Alternate Reality Games 2.5 hours every day on his laptop does not mean any of these qualities caused him to call himself a gamer.

“Well, then… thanks for leading me through all those charts and that data for nothing, Lauren.” I heard what you said there, and I understand your frustration.

Although I said all the stuff above doesn’t cause identification with gamerdom, it DOES tell a story about what we observe among a game playing population – and you gotta admit, that’s kind of fascinating. It also points us in the direction of more stories to be told. (I haven’t even shared the responses to “Why do you consider yourself a gamer, or why not?” Now those give the specifics that the numbers here can’t do justice. But stay tuned to the Big Fish Blog – I’ll be discussing these answers and their insight in a future post!)

What this is all about

Ultimately, this data is a very small square on a huge tapestry of a growing gaming community. Everything I stated here only paints the picture of the 377 respondents to my survey, and may not represent all game players in our vast gaming world. In an economy where gaming is beginning to overtake the movie industry in revenue, all game players – from the business traveler playing mobile games to pass time at the airport, to the leveling-obsessed college student – are part of a movement that picks up speed with every game released and every device invented.

That means you and me, game-playing friend. Beyond labels, this is really about a community of people who enjoys time spent with a friend across the country, a loved one next to them on the couch, or just a quiet night with a good puzzle. No matter whether you think you’re a gamer or not, we all love good company, a good story, and a good challenge.

What do you think about the survey data? Is it consistent with your experiences, or is it upside down? How do you enjoy spending your game time?

P.S. – Thanks to all who provided their opinions, and a special shout-out to my friends who spread the survey to their networks.

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