Online gamers play against stereotypes, UD researcher finds
Scott Caplan
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4:06 p.m., Oct. 6, 2008----The stereotype of online gamers may be wrong. They are by and large not obese teenage boys. Instead, they're older and fitter than the U.S. general population and a surprising number are female, said Scott Caplan, UD associate professor of communication.

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Along with colleagues from the University of Southern California and the Palo Alto Research Center, Caplan studied 7,000 players of the online game EverQuest 2. EverQuest2 is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), a game with a virtual world where players create characters and interact with other players. The researchers found the average player is 31 years old.

“I would have expected it to be college age,” Caplan said, noting that counter to even his own stereotype, most players are 30-somethings. And, almost 20 percent are female.

“Although there's not as many women playing,” he said, “they play more than the men, which goes against the stereotype of the adolescent male who's the compulsive gamer.”

Researchers gathered the data through a survey that appeared inside the game. Sony Online Entertainment gave researchers access to proprietary information about its customers. Caplan and his colleagues believe Sony is the first major game company to share public data for outside research.

Armed with those numbers, the social scientists calculated gamers' body mass index, a measure of fitness. The average BMI for the U.S. general population is 28. The gamers' average BMI is 25.1.

That surprised researchers. The gamers' mental health however, did not startle Caplan. They reported higher-than-average rates of substance abuse and depression. Caplan says the question now is “Why?”

“Why are people going to the games and what are they getting out of the games,” he wonders.

The stereotypical response might be gaming is responsible for their poor mental health. But, what if you consider the flip side of that argument?

“If gaming actually helps people who have mental health problems, and they are turning to it because of the benefits,” Caplan said, “then knowing that gives us a way to look at games as having therapeutic value.”

These questions, he said, are a good starting point for more research.

Article by Andrea Boyle
Photo by Kathy Atkinson