Gamers: Who They Are, How They Think, And How They Feel

The term “gamer” maybe something you have heard, read, or just barely recognize. It can mean several different things ranging from a simple definition to a descriptor of someone you know, or don’t know, all the way to a lifestyle and/or major contributor to one’s personality. “Gamer” is also a neutral term, meaning anyone who is male, female, or whatever else they may identify as can be considered as one by themselves or others. I oftentimes think of gamers as anyone who takes part in playing PC games, console games, portable games such as on iPhones or tablets, and even purely physical board/card games. For this reason, it doesn’t matter how long or how much one spends their time gaming. Anyone who enjoys a good round of Uno or plays some Call of Duty now and then, or all the time, can be considered a gamer.

So, who are gamers? How many men, women, children, teenagers, adults consider themselves, or are considered to be by others, gamers? What motivates them during the various quests, explorations, adventures, or puzzle-solving challenges they may partake in? How do they prefer to play: with friends, by themselves, or with strangers they will most likely never come to meet in person? All of these questions, and more, will be answered through a series of charts and data collected on everything it means to be a gamer.

Interestingly enough, however, the very definition I and others do and may have in their heads on what a gamer is, is a fluid and ever-changing concept that depends entirely on the individual.

This pie chart above shows just how split the community of American adults alone is in regards to the term “gamer,” and how very few of them consider themselves to be one, even if they play video games. At face value, this may not seem like much, but it can be very suggestive as to what people’s train of thought may be. The very low 10% of adults that identify as a gamer out of the 49% total that plays video games may give us insight into reasons why they choose not to. Perhaps it is because they do not like the term “gamer” when referring to themselves because they believe it to be inaccurate, or they just simply don’t like the word. Also, there is the fact that just because they may not consider themselves a gamer or do consider themselves a gamer, this does not provide any evidence of how much time they spend playing games. There is also the whopping 51% of adults who do not play video games at all! Not being accurate as to the exact age range they relate “adult” to, this is still a broad category of people and the bulk of the human population. Who’s to say what it may look like when one looks at any other sort of demographic such as women in America or Europe or all people no matter the geographic location or sexual orientation.

To get a closer look at exactly who makes up the massive force of people who could be classified as a gamer, this pie chart above visualizes specific age ranges of people and how many of those people in those age ranges play video games. It is interesting to note from this that the majority of the gaming population lies in the age range of people aged 18 to 34 years. We as humans change a lot in this age range, as we pass through stages such as high school, college/entering the workforce, starting a career and moving around, starting a family, and getting married as well, perhaps. Despite the vast amount of change a lot of people experience in their lives during the ages of 18 to 34, this category still makes up the majority of gamers; No matter the amount of time you spend on games and how that number fluctuates as you become busier or less busy in life.

This is a staggering amount of people when compared to the lowest contributor, those aged 65+ only making up 6%. I’d personally like to imagine myself at the age of 65 still playing all the new, big games being released and when I do think about it, I wonder why there aren’t more older people doing the same. Those that are aged 65 and up were teenagers or young adults when video games accessible through the first generation of video game consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey, were made available in the early ’70s and even younger when games such as Pong were brought into the world in arcades and such. So why aren’t more older-aged people playing games anymore? Maybe it’s because they’d rather spend their time doing something else or it physically hurts to do so, since arthritis is a very common thing, especially in older audiences. It could also be that games have just become too complex, as this is the reason my mother does not partake in them (being 56 herself).

Another interesting detail brought to bear in this data is how much of a significant drop in player amounts the 55 to 64 age range makes from its previous 34 to 54 age range. When you consider the fact that most gamers are found from 18 to 34 at 38%, and the 55 to 64 age range only has 9%, this suggests that the majority of the drop off in gamers can be found somewhere towards the ages of 40–50, not 55–60. We can also see that not everyone who plays video games gets started at an early age during elementary, middle, or even high school. Only 21% of the 38% seen in the 18 to 34 age group is satisfied by the 18 and under age group, meaning that at some point after the age of 18, it could be that 17% more people began to play video games. I know that it is also often the case that parents place restrictions or total preventions on their children in regards to a video game as well. Restrictions such as not allowing them to play games that they are not a certain age for, in line with ESRB ratings, or placing time restrictions on how much they can play in a week or day. I know I have personally had a friend that, despite being old enough to play a game, has been prevented from doing so just because the game has had a bad reputation amongst media outlets (the Grand Theft Auto series). It is also the case, being more uncommon than the former reasons, that kids are prevented from playing games/video games altogether by their parents. Either because of financial reasons by the parents, educational reasons by the parents or child themselves, or personal parenting goals by the parents. That could also be the case for why there aren’t as many gamers in the 18 and under group, as they would technically be able to do as they wish once they moved away to college or somewhere besides their parents’ home. But we can dig even deeper to find out how many of these people are male or female, and even how they have fluctuated over the years.

This line graph shows the fluctuating presence of males and females within the gaming world from 2006 to 2020. It’s interesting to note that the overall flow of the two lines will stay symmetrical, as at any given point the percentages found at the points at the same time will add up to 100%, so as one of them rises, the other falls and visa versa. I would like to point your attention towards three distinct points of this chart; coincidently those three points are the beginning, the middle, and the end. In the beginning, the population of those identified here as male makes up an overwhelming 62% of the gaming population, while females only make up 38%. In no year after 2006 will the gap be this big, for now, which means that overall progress in the gaming population encompassing everyone has been made if that is a goal that interests you. Presumably, this could be reflective of certain attitudes towards women who wish to be a part of the gaming community. Perhaps it could be because of males’ treatment towards women with disdain or harassment, as I have seen way too many cases of this to count in the many years I’ve been a part of the community. Maybe it’s as simple as video games aren’t as enjoyed by women as they are men. I find the latter unlikely, as in the middle of the graph during the years 2012 and 2014 especially, we can see the closest points of the ratio of men and women being equal with 53% and 52% men, respectively, and 47% and 48% women, also respectively. Several factors could influence these cases as well such as the reception of women by the majority audience, men, or that style of video games being released in those years. After 2014, however, the gap widens and shortens again until we arrive at the year 2019, where the gap begins to widen going into 2021. Perhaps the overtime trend of a slow decrease in the overall gap of male and female gamers will continue throughout the years, or maybe the gap will widen again to the state it was in during 2006. Whatever the case, it’s obvious enough that the influence of gamers is nearly equal to men and women.

Now that the population and makeup of gamers have been established, visualized, and analyzed, we can begin to investigate the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and motivations of this gaming population. You may have noticed that the previous graphs cover those who identify as male and female, but not any more specific than that such as race or how included and represented everyone may be. This will be the first topic of debate within the gaming community that we will go over, as the representation and portrayal of minorities and women have very much been a hot one in recent years up to the present.

The portrayal of women within video games has always been a serious topic of controversy, and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future. Often times women are objectified within video games — being seen with serious lewd and/or sexualized themes such as with minimal clothing or armor or serving only to be material that catches the male gaze and therefore could be used in the cover art or advertisement in attempts to increase sales. I would argue that this problem has been seriously decreased as we live in a world where these issues are being successfully questioned, condemned, and fixed. The problem is not over though, and that’s evident enough in the donut graph seen above. Out of all the participants that took part in this data collection, 14% still believe it true that women are portrayed poorly in most games. The outlier here is that 40% of those who were asked were entirely unsure, so speculation as to why is the best we could do in figuring out why which would be inaccurate. The majority of those who did offer an opinion did agree that only some games are guilty of this, not most, and not all.

Moving on to the portrayal of minorities in video games. It seems when it comes to minorities, gamers for the most part have noticed a better representation from games. With the highest number that isn’t the category of those unsure belonging to the opinion that minorities are not portrayed poorly at 23% and only 9% believing the opposite. It’s clear though, that either the issue is not bad enough to warrant attention from the 40% on the portrayal of women and the 47% on the portrayal of minorities or those that partook in the voting are not attentive towards the issue themselves, either because they aren’t a woman or part of a minority or they simply do not notice. I believe that regardless of any sort of interpretation one may take away from this graph and its data, the cause for concern towards portrayal and representation of minorities and women is present enough to warrant studying the why, to better understand the how in regards to fixing the issue that a noticeable percentage of these people believe to be seeing.

Now, we’re going to move on to a more broad view on video games that encompasses not only those from within the gaming community but from those outsides of it as well. And the topic of investigation will change from one or two specific audiences to several cases of opinion on what video games/games can do and what they may or may not be good for.

This chart above visualizes several opinions on video games from anyone from non-gamers to gamers, parents to teens, older to younger people. It’s interesting to note that the choice came from what they thought on all four of these topics, not choosing which one to respond to. We’ll start with how people felt about the “Are a waste of time” category.

26% of people say that most games they have encountered, or not, are a complete waste of time. Whether or not they have had experience with them or are simply gauging on a pre-determined pattern, such as games that are part of a genre they don’t like or games that they haven’t experienced. The majority in this category, sitting at 33% in favor of some games being a waste of time but not others, seems to believe that it’s only some that are a waste of time. I’d put myself into this category as well since I am not a fan of strategy/grand strategy games, while acknowledging that there are people who love them, they’d be a waste of time for me. Having fun or feeling accomplished or several other reasons are why people play video games in the first place, and if you don’t feel anything when playing a game, that is what warrant’s placing the “waste of time” title over it for me. The 24% that claim that most games are not a waste of time could believe that there is joy in everything you may choose to play, I know several people like this. People that can play whatever they want to whenever they want and always find some way to enjoy themselves while doing so. They don’t particularly hate any genre or favor one over the others, they just simply play video games and pick and choose (though aren’t very picky). The 16% who are unsure, that’s understandable. It’s hard to try and keep all hundreds of thousands of games in check with a simple “is it a waste of time or not?” especially when no single person can truly experience everything that the gaming industry has to offer.

Next up, is what people think about whether or not video games help to develop problem-solving skills. Most people believe, at 47%, that this statement is true for some games but not others. Their argument would be along with the basis that some games such as platformers, puzzle-solving, RPGs, adventure games, and anything with a sort of quest system warrants something that does require problem-solving, and therefore it’s best to be a case by case system. I would argue otherwise and would align myself with the 17% that say most games are good at developing problem-solving skills. This is because regardless of what you’re doing in a video game, even down to the simplest one that simply may have you walk in one direction, is a form of problem-solving. The reason for that may not be that you’re solving some grand or side objective within the game itself, but that you’re successfully navigating the game’s controls and inner systems. I know that my mother, who I previously mentioned, has a very difficult time coordinating her sight with her fingers, therefore acts that are simple to some such as just pressing forward on a stick to navigate the terrain or pressing a button to jump and/or interact with something, is significantly harder for her. This isn’t even just because she’s older either, but rather the fact that she doesn’t have near as much experience using a gamepad to play video games as others do. These actions and coordinating between sight and hands are extremely simple and require zero thought from people like myself who have spent thousands upon thousands of hours playing every kind of variety of video game. When it comes to the 16% that claim it’s untrue for most games that they help to develop good problem-solving skills, I must simply disagree. While you could argue that some games do and some do not my argument I stated previously in regards to problem-solving holds my position on the matter as the opposite from those who say most games do not develop skills. Again, while that may be true for some, that is not the case for everyone who may pick up gaming.

Another important factor within the gaming community, and one that I’m glad to see being among these four categories, is that of promoting teamwork and communication. Teamwork can take many forms within video games such as simply playing together online with friends or random people to completing long, arduous activities in online games that require a dozen or more other people all working together to complete a huge task. But teamwork also has a presence within offline games when you work hand in hand with NPCs to complete similar goals or just to simply turn in quests and other objectives for rewards. I think that the 37% who say that this is true for some games but not others are accurate and close, but the most accurate, and the one that I would align with is the 10% who say most games do this. Some games do not even have any sort of online functionality, which would knock out a lot from the communication category. Or at least it would as even if you are not working as a team or communicating with other, real people, you can still do both with NPCs within the game themselves. The types of games that this would even be possible in is offline games that require assistance from in-game characters, online games that require multiple people to play the game or complete certain actions, online games that pit player versus player, and offline games that require communication with in-game NPCs (that covers a vast majority of gaming genres, including all RPGs). So, this simple analysis of the many behaviors and possible ways to play games already rules out those that state most games do not promote teamwork and communication. It’s still interesting, however, that 23% of people who participated in this analysis said that most games do not promote these two traits. Perhaps they only, or mostly, have experience with the games that require neither of these and assume that this is the case for most games out there. Or they could only consider the games that have online functionality, and therefore posit the possibility for teamwork and communication with other real human beings, like ones that count.

The final, but interesting in its own right, statement is asking these people if they think that video games are a better form of entertainment than TV. This is a strong statement, as oftentimes myself and others, think of TV and video games as the two sides of the same coin. That coin being hobbies that involve you sitting on a couch, or chair, and gluing your eyes to the screen. However, there is one key difference when defining both of these actions, and that is how one interacts with the content. When it comes to TV, the viewer does just that: they view and take in content whether it’s educational or entertaining or both. But when it comes to video games, the player plays it, progressing the storyline or timeline of events through completing certain in-game obstacles and objectives — the game does not move forward lest the player’s actions make it do so. I believe it is this key difference in interaction that divides the people’s opinion on which is better, and therefore comes down to two questions. Do you enjoy watching and taking in guaranteed linear content? Or would you rather feel in control of the series of events and interact with the world and environment yourself? Well, 11% seem to agree that, for most games available, the latter is the better choice. I would be inclined to agree usually, as I spent much more time immersing myself in the world of gaming, and if given the chance, would pick playing a video game over watching a show to a movie. However, despite what may have seemed like a bias inclination towards gaming, I can acknowledge the fact that there are a good amount of movies and shows that far surpass the quality of a good amount of video games. Such as the Star Wars franchise: the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, (not the sequels, they make me want to puke), the Clone Wars and Rebels animated shows, The Mandalorian, and the shows that are releasing here soon are all ranked high above some of my experiences with video games. Because of this, I’d place my vote in the category of true for some games, but not others, with the other 34% of people who agree. I can assume that they feel the same — that usually, they would select a video game overviewing a film, but some cases would change their mind. To the 11% who deem that most games, if not all, are better than anything TV has to offer, I salute you, because you must know exactly what you want out of your free time. The piece of this donut graph that surprises me though, is the 30% that state there are few games that they would prefer to play over watching TV. This comes simply from a difference of opinion, and anyone can enjoy whatever they wish.

Now that I’ve covered both what kinds of people and audiences make up the gaming community and how they view certain choice topics surrounding it, I now want to dig even deeper and analyze the motivations and preferences on specific traits that push people and their preferred ways to play video games. For starters, we’ll examine the ways gamers prefer to play. The following two graphs will present a ratio out of 10 so, for example, the “Co-op” category has a ratio of 3.84, meaning that roughly 3.84 of people out of 10 prefer to play in a cooperative environment (people are not limited to one choice, but rather select all that apply).

Interestingly enough, the most preferred way to play by gamers is cooperative. Co-op games do encompass a staggering amount of available video games. From online shooters to simple games that offer online or local play, these games provide multiple means of access and variety within the market. Of the people that selected co-op, the majority of them also specified friends along with it. Meaning there is a small portion of people that prefer to play co-op games, but not with friends, an intriguing detail since most people would agree that they’d rather play video games with people they know over people they don’t know.

The next big one is solo play. If it was between two of these for which one would be at the top, I would have picked solo play but, it seems co-op won this one. Solo play games would make up about half or a little over half of the available games. Even if a game can be played together with other people either online or locally, it counts as solo if you can play it by yourself.

Next is the conglomeration of all remaining preferences: unknown people, couples, competitive, and family. All of these are other forms, while more specific, of playing with other people, but not necessarily co-op. These simply specify the preference within the preference of co-op on how people like to play games. Competitive, however, is the opposite. These games pit two or more teams/people made up of real people against one another. Despite the ratio of preference only being 2.88, this is still a very large amount of people that make up the audience that prefers competitive play. I, for one, avoid competitive play whenever possible unless I’m playing with some friends. This is because of the environment that, while not unique to competitive environments, creates toxicity either through poor sportsmanship (which is rampant in a lot of online games) or game design being exploited by players, creating never-ending loops of developers patching, fixing, and modifying pre-existing conditions and items that never ends. I don’t want to only give the online play a bad rap, however, because it can be a fun and unique time if you play it with the right people such as friends or non-toxic players. It’s just that in my experience, this is a rare occurrence, unfortunately, especially in the games that I would prefer to play online when I do.

Next, I’d like to specifically compare the highest and lowest ratios that are present on this graph, co-op, and family. It’s funny, because usually when someone puts the word cooperation and family together they’d assume they’d go together. But that is not the case when it comes to video games apparently, as the ratio of people that prefer co-op games sits at 3.84 while the ratio of gamers that prefer playing with family is 2.44, the lowest of all seven categories. Despite the somewhat ironic nature of people disassociating cooperation from family, it makes a bit of sense when you consider how many games out there are built for families specifically or have families in mind. It’s a very low amount as of recently and hit its peak roughly 10 years ago with the release of several gaming technologies that focused on motion-based gameplay through Microsoft’s Kinect on Xbox and Sony’s Move for PlayStation. The one that hurts the most for families out there, though, has got to be the fact that most people would rather play with strangers online than with their family, as the unknown people ratio sits at almost 1 higher from family. The next, and final, graph I will analyze offers the same ratio system as the one shown above but will focus on the motivations gamers have to play certain games and why.

The motivations behind what gamers like to see in their video games vary greatly, and each one offers the possibility for a significant change in gameplay and goals. Some motivations on this list are easily relatable and explainable, such as oblivion and progression, and history. These motivations offer escapes from the stresses that may be present in daily life (oblivion) or are the simple satisfaction from completing in-game tasks (progression) or how something may resemble the history of our own, real-life world (history). Some, are much more complex.

The two aspects of gameplay present on this list, diversity, and depth, are two parts to a whole. Diversity is the ability for a game to offer not only one, or two, or even three different avenues of a unique experience, but to adapt constantly and grant more experiences. If a game only offers one avenue of experience, it will become boring much quicker than something that gives variety, and therefore is pretty much just as important as immersion. Depth is very similar to diversity, in that it’s oriented around the overall gameplay of a game. Depth is the degree to which these aforementioned avenues can be explored, and how much they can give the player in terms of fun and new experiences. So in other words, the more depth and diversity the gameplay has, the better.

Finally, I want to talk about the comparisons between the highest motivation and lowest: immersion and incarnation. Immersion sits at the top, with a ratio of 4.41 gamers looking for it. Immersion is one of the most important, as is evident here, aspects of gaming. It’s the degree to which the gamer can connect themselves and be surrounded by the world built by game developers, and oftentimes involves a significant degree of realism. Though realism can only go so far for people before it turns into a hindrance. Say, for example, you have a mechanic that involves ways the player character can be damaged. Realistically speaking, if someone fell from a height of 100ft or higher, they would break their legs at best if not die. The game needs to balance the feeling of realism (so your character cannot fall from space and be completely fine) and not being annoyed (falling off a 10ft drop and dying on impact). This balance is why immersion is so important to gamers everywhere and explains its position on the list. Incarnation is at the bottom and is an aspect of motivation that offers players the ability to embody someone or something else. Granted, the ratio difference from top to bottom is only .46, so arguably these are all equally important, it’s just that the ability to pretend to be someone else is the least interesting one to gamers here.

To wrap up, I discussed and analyzed what it means to be a gamer, or not a gamer, from the outside looking in and on the individual level. I also talked about the representation of gamers in terms of age groups, sexes, portrayals of women and minorities, and what it all might mean. The world and people of gaming are vast and complex, and the ability to attach exact definitions to any of it will never be possible, but we can analyze and discuss what we as individuals think about it all. Last, but certainly not least, I looked at the opinions of the community and how they like to play video games, what they think about video games compared to other means of entertainment, and also what motivates them during gameplay.