Turn on the TV at any given hour and you are bound to find a reference to the stereotypical online gamer. Popular TV shows like the Big Bang Theory, Law and Order: SVU, and web-series’ such as Pure Pwnage and The Guild have all portrayed the same reclusive, socially inept, basement dwelling gamer stereotype. While some have taken a more comical rather than serious approach, the sentiment remains the same: online gamers are individuals who are overweight, have no social life, and are unable or unwilling to integrate into mainstream society.
But do these characterizations hold true in the real world? At a time when the popularity of online gaming has reached record highs, can we still claim that this activity is one associated with a niche and undesirable subgroup of individuals?
My latest research tackles this issue and examines the validity of the stereotype of online gamers. Drawing on previous research, the four facets of the stereotype of online gamers (unpopularity, unattractiveness, idleness, and social ineptitude) were systematically examined among a representative sample of the German population.
The results are clear: the stereotype of online gamers is largely unsupported. Contrary to predictions, broad differences in outcomes related to the stereotype (e.g., overweight, unpopular, reclusive, etc.) were not found between online game players and non-players. Even though some differences were found between offline and online game players, these differences were limited to problematic play and social motivations, with online players generating higher outcomes on both of these measures. While this indicates that online players are more prone to problematic use and are more socially motivated to play than offline players, a lack of overarching differences between online, offline, and non-players discredits the contention that online gamers are significantly more overweight, unpopular, lazy, or socially inept as compared to other game playing or non-game playing groups.
Additional analyses were undertaken to evaluate whether stereotypic outcomes correspond with varying levels of involvement within the medium. That is, if more involved online gamers exhibit the stereotypical profile. These analyses revealed significant inverse relationships between the frequency of online play and frequency of exercise and occupational success, suggesting that more involved online game players are more un-athletic, and underachieving in their occupational pursuits than the broader online game playing population.
While more involved video game players were found to differ from their less involved counterparts on a variety of stereotypically ascribed attributes, particularly in relation to the psychological components of the stereotype (i.e., problematic use, occupational success, social support), most aspects of the stereotype are did not garner empirical support. Thus, it can be concluded that the average online game player does not epitomize the stereotypical mold anecdotally attributed to them.
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