February 17, 2018

Gaming Basics: Not Just for Boys Anymore

By Shawn McCann

Not Just for Boys Anymore

Picture a videogame player. What do you see? Ten or 15 years ago, the question might have evoked an image of an adolescent boy, probably in a basement somewhere, parked zombie-like in front of the television. This stereotype simply doesn’t hold true anymore; today’s gamers span all ages and both genders. For librarians wanting to know how best to serve this mutable, quickly growing demographic, it is important to understand just how big today’s gaming industry is as well as who’s playing.

Advanced level of interest

According to a 2008 Entertainment Software Association (ESA) report, people in 65 percent of U.S. households play computer or video games. New consumer data from the market research company NPD Group shows that sales of videogames—i.e., portable and console hardware, software, and accessories—in the United States generated revenues of nearly $18 billion in 2007, a 43 percent increase from 2006. This is a global phenomenon as well, with some analysts expecting worldwide sales to grow from $41.9 billion in 2007 to $68 billion by 2012. Business is booming, and it’s got a lot of people, myself included, excited.

Who the players are

Also according to the ESA report, the average gamer is 35 years old—a far cry from the stereotype. Perhaps even more surprising, 26 percent of today’s gamers are over the age of 50 (in 1999, only nine percent were). Nintendo has successfully reached out to this audience through its Wii Sports (2006), which opens up a near-limitless world of recreational sports to older users, and Brain Age (2006), which entices them with the prospect of exercising their mind muscles. Even AARP is responding to the trend, having recently launched a new gaming portal—games.AARP.org—on its web site.

The ESA report’s findings concerning the gender of gamers are equally enlightening: 40 percent of all gamers are female. In fact, women age 18 years and older represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than do boys age 17 and under (18 percent).

Especially popular with women are casual games—typically, easy games played on computers or mobile platforms in short increments, like Bejeweled (PopCap Games, 2001), Tetris (Alexey Pajitnov, 1985), and Microsoft Solitaire for Windows (you know the one).

A 2007 Casual Games Market report indicates that women make up 51 percent of this player base. Other games popular among women are music-related party games—e.g., Rock Band (Harmonix Music Systems. MTV Games. 2007) and the SingStar series (London Studio. Sony Computer Entertainment. 2007)—and simulation games like the Sims (Maxis. Electronic Arts. 2000) and Nintendogs (Nintendo, 2005).

Nintendo does well with the female population generally—women make up an impressive one-third of Nintendo’s gamers—and, as with seniors, doesn’t shy away from targeting them directly (witness its Wii Fit marketing campaign).

Of course, just as every library serving gamers is unique in the types of gamers it attracts, it is also unique in the types of games to which its users are drawn. Youth services paralibrarian Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe reports that, though interactive roleplaying games like Final Fantasy (Square, 1987) are popular among the female patrons of Springfield City Library, MA, “it seems to me that there’s an equal number of females who like the run-around-and-shoot-’em-up types [of games] as there are the ones who like long, complicated, story-type games.” Hodge-Wetherbe, who is in her early thirties, adds that “I tend to be the latter type, although I do like to unwind with the occasional trip down Doom memory lane.”

Gaming in libraries

Some libraries are specifically attending to senior and female gamers. The Old Bridge Public Library, NJ, for example, recently hosted an event at which seniors learned how to play the music videogame Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (Neversoft. Activision & RedOctane. 2007). With teens volunteering as trainers, the event also served to unite disparate age groups.

As game developers increasingly target these burgeoning audiences, they are sure to grow. And as librarians better serve new gamers through collections, events, and services, taking notice, too, of future evolutions in gaming, they will help place libraries squarely in the 21st century.

Author Information
Shawn McCann is Immersive Learning (Gaming) Librarian at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont. Read his Gaming Basics blog at www.libraryjournal.com