Everquest Gamers Shatter Gender Stereotypes

The LA Times headline says it all: "Women play harder than men in online games, study finds."

The study (co-authored by Dmitri Williams, Nick Yee, and Scott Caplan) is fascinating as the researchers kept certain gender stereotypes in mind as they gathered data, and then pointed out what was consistent with the data and what was refuted. And the study reveals:

Williams found several surprises during his study of 7,000 anonymous players of "EverQuest II." While 80 percent of players were male, female players spent more time in-world: 29 hours a week, versus 25 for males.

"The women play more intensely than the guys do," Williams said. "They're less likely to quit, and they're happier playing."

As the first game researcher granted access to a virtual world's servers, Williams was able to measure playing time directly. That turned up another surprise: Women underestimated their playing time more than men.

"The women really under-report," Williams said. "They play more than they admit."

The study also disputed some other common assumptions about gamers - that hardcore players are generally unfit (they found that male players were "no less fit than the general population", while female players had slightly better fitness levels than average) and that gaming is the exclusive domain of teenagers - the average age of the participants in the study was 31.

However, some stereotypes were affirmed by study data. The LA Times summarizes some of the gender scripts that were followed:

But the study also affirmed many gender tropes. For example, women played less aggressively, while men tended to focus more on achievement. Those styles played into traditional gender roles of the nurturing female and the heroic male.

This was especially true when couples played the game together. The men played more aggressively, while their female partners toned down the violence.

Women are also more likely to play the game with someone else — six in 10 female gamers played with a romantic partner, but only 1 in 4 men do. Women were happier when they played with someone else, while men reported being happier playing by themselves.

Why does this matter? In part, because developers have puzzled for years to figure out ways to get women to buy and play more games. Figuring out what motivates them to play is a key step.

Alex Pham points to developers puzzling over what women want to play in a game, but that answer is fairly easy to find. Wired recently published a list of "The 15 Most Influential Games of The Decade" which was a good survey of the gaming landscape. On Wired's list, Grand Theft Auto brushed shoulders with Brain Age, Bejeweled represented right along with Metroid Prime and Halo, and games like Portal and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved received some well deserved shine. The landscape Wired paints when describing the gaming environment is one that is populated with women players. Games like the Sims, Bejeweled, and Brain Age are very popular with casual gamers (which are predominantly women), while more popular titles like Metroid Prime, Halo, and World of Warcraft entertained gamers who wanted more invested gameplay.

It is this tapestry of games - from "casual" to "hardcore" and everything in between - that keeps players engaged and motivated to continue playing. Instead of looking through the ambiguous lens of gender to guide game creation, developers would do well to look at the variety of experiences that interest people enough to play.

ETA: Yes, I am aware the photo above is Warcraft. If someone finds me a pic of multiple female avatars in Everquest that are not sexualized, I'd be happy to post it. Until then, Warcraft group shot stays up. - LDP

Women play harder than men in online games, study finds [LA Times]
Women outplay men in virtual world [USC Annenberg]
The 15 Most Influential Games of the Decade [Wired]