Nov

24

The 5 Biggest Myths About Social Gaming and Gamers

Mark Stephens

Fat, spotty teenagers peering over a discarded heap of pizza boxes as they clutch their controllers - a common image that is traditionally conjured up when gaming is mentioned. All that’s changing. People are being forced to revise their mental image of gamers as the social revolution of the past few years takes gaming to the masses. The fact is - your mum is just as likely to be playing as your son. That’s just one of five myths about social gaming and gamers well and truly dispelled below….

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1. Most Social Gamers are Bored Teenage Boys

Let’s start with that most obvious one – who plays games? While many still conveniently picture gamers as bored teenage boys with nothing better to do, and a symbol of the demise of adolescence, it is not borne out by the facts.

Now social gaming has been added to the mix of console, portable and PC video gaming, women are just as likely to be playing. And that’s not just teenage girls – it’s your mother! A large proportion of gamers are over 50. The Washington Times recently reported that women make up almost half of all gamers. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in the US has a page of game facts on its website:

“Women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (31 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (19 percent).”

You’ll know that’s true if your girlfriend or wife comes to bed late because she’s tending her farm or crushing more than her fair share of candies. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything, of course…ahem.

Most social games these days are not marketed only at kids; that tells you all you need to know. Marketers know who play their games and ads for social games are targeted just as much at the females as the males – and a mature audience as much as the kids.

2. Gaming Dumbs You Down & Makes You Anti-Social

Another common accusation by the anti-gamers is that it either makes you stupid or anti-social.

For starters many social games actively engage the brain with puzzles, word-play or strategy tasks, so that goes against everything we know. How is doing a Sudoku puzzle in a newspaper good for you but playing Words with Friends or Scrabble online dumbing you down? Social games are available to help you learn how to speak a language or play a musical instrument for instance, and many involve complex strategy that can help with with problem solving skills.

Social games are also forums where people interact. It is much more of an interactive experience than spending hours watching TV, so in many ways gaming makes us more social. In fact this has been suggested recently by a Queensland University of Technology study which found that:

“Gaming improves young people’s emotional, social and psychological wellbeing, and playing as a family can help build stronger relationships”

3. Gaming is Bad for Health and Life Balance

“Gamers let gaming rule their lives” has been a common chant too, often from people who spend half their lives in front of the TV.

In extreme cases we hear about poor souls playing for 2-days on end without sleep in some Asian internet café; but most people approach gaming with common sense and balance. There are extreme cases for almost any activity – when it turns into addiction – but it is not the norm.

Admittedly the ESA has a vested interest in defending gaming, but here’s what it says in relation to health:

“Numerous independent studies show that game play has positive impacts on physical and mental health, social awareness, creative thinking, and classroom and workplace learning.”

Most people who are mentally well-balanced in the first place will approach gaming with common sense, and balance their game-playing with the rest of their lives. Parents will need to guide their kids in this.

4. Gaming Make You Aggressive

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Another accusation typically leveled at gaming is that it can make people more aggressive. There are games that seem to desensitise us towards war, violence, theft and other nasties, but no more than the average Hollywood movie does. Why pick on gaming?

In any case, evidence is thankfully very thin on the ground (read: non-existent) for violence spilling over from a smartphone or tablet screen into real life. Again, isolated cases can link almost anything to anything.

Patrick Kierkegaard from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Copenhagen makes this excellent point:

“Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s, while video games have steadily increased in popularity and use.”

5. It’s Just a Fad

Dismissing gaming as a “fad” can be categorically declared a “cop out “now. It’s here to stay. Just like TVs, computers and the Web, social gaming takes its place on the electronic entertainment shelf as one of the mainstays that people amuse themselves with.

In the US alone, a recent report indicated:

“A total spend of $3.5 billion (€2.6 billion) on game-related content during the latest quarter, a 17% increase on the corresponding period last year.”

Too many people now depend on the social gaming industry for livelihoods, for it to pass away anytime soon. It will change forms many times, but the basic premise is going nowhere.

It’s a multi-billion dollar industry already, and growing by the year, so you’d better get used to it!