Opinion: State of Play
It's old "news" that half of gamers are women, but a recent gaming survey contains some more interesting nuggets about gaming culture
News agencies have made a big deal about the recent finding that 52% of gamers in the UK are female, driven to game by the accessibility of apps and smart devices. As a self-proclaimed 'girl gamer,' and based on my experience in video game retail and journalism, I’m not particularly surprised by this result. Making a fuss about females playing video games is like making a fuss about women using the internet. It’s a bit of a laugh when someone jokes that “there are no girls on the internet;” but surely no one genuinely believes that anymore? That’s like being surprised that women catch buses.
But beyond the dull fact that just over half of Britain’s 33.5 million gamers are female, the survey of just over 4000 people aged 8-74 does actually offer a glimpse into the state of play in our society, and how gaming is a mainstream past-time for all ages.
Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of children and young adults surveyed had played a game in the past six months. Under 17s topped the total weekly play time at 20 hours, nearly double the time spent playing by people aged 18-44. If that’s a shocking figure, then take heart that gamers believed that their ability to multitask while gaming was equivalent to listening to music, and on par or higher than reading a book. So, it would seem that reading is actually a more anti-social and isolating hobby than playing a game.
Multi-tasking while gaming also makes sense when you consider that almost half of the games we play are apps on smart devices. By their very nature, smart phones and tablets are multi-tasking machines, letting you switch seamlessly between listening to music, playing a game, responding to a text message, or checking the football scores. It’s also worth noting that app-based games remind you to play them through notifications, chiming with new content or news that someone beat your high score. Unlike the faithful PC or console that waits for you to come to it, app-based gaming actively seeks you out. Gaming therefore can become a lot more passive and pervasive in your daily life.
However, the amount of time playing games, divided by demographics, seems consistent with what you would expect from the increased responsibilities of adulthood. Of the 168 hours in a week, the 11 hours adults spend gaming each week pales in comparison to 40-50 at work and 50-60 being asleep. It's also only a drop in the ocean of the 52 hours a week we spend consuming media, including music, web surfing, TV, and films.
Gamers are happy to put up with a bit of advertising if it makes their games free, which is a testament to the success of the commercialisation of our daily lives. Tolerating advertising in exchange for cheap or free content is at the heart of all apps, but for gamers it links to the bargain-shopping mentality that drives regular Steam and Humble Bundle sales (amongst others), and leads to massive backlogs of games bought but unplayed. It would be interesting to see if people treat free and cheap apps the same as their Steam back-catalogues, or if they are willing to delete apps from their devices that are not to their standards.
The future of gaming is obviously shifting as people take the opportunity to game conveniently while commuting, or to drop in and out of a game while doing other things. Rather than being a direct threat to console and PC gaming, especially games that ideally require a keyboard, mouse, control pad and a decent sized screen, the onus lies on the handheld market to adapt. Personally, I would not object to more of the games designed for handheld systems like PSP or 3DS being shifted to an app on a smart device. By comparison to my smartphone, my poor 3DS is so underutilised, it’s hardly worth the hundreds of pounds I paid for it.
What’s missing from the survey is an exploration of the media consumption of under-8s. As it’s not uncommon to see kids playing on their parents’ or siblings’ smart devices – multi-functionality must play into the purchasing decision to buy a smart device the family can use, whether a media centre console like Xbox or Playstation, or a handheld console. Whether handhelds have the kind of multifunctionality that serves a whole family, and what this means for our youngest generation of gamers, remains to be seen.