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When one mentions gaming, your mind is generally flooded with images of washed-out nerdy white guys, sitting in a darkened room, hunched over their computers for days on end. But if recent research is anything to go by, the stereotype is changing, as more and more female gamers enter the fray.
A recent study conducted by PopCap Games (most famous for Plants vs Zombies and Bejeweled) found that women were the most active gamers on social networking sites, making up over 55% of gamers. The study implies that there is a direct correlation between the rise in popularity of social networking among older users and the uptake of social gaming, and revealed that older women frequent social gaming platforms more often than any other demographic and play a larger variety of games — the most popular being Bejeweled Blitz, Farmville, Mafia Wars, Texas Holdem Poker, and Farm Town.
Overall, it was reported that this new type of gamer was attracted to the social aspects and ability to play with other “real-life” friends. What is interesting to note, however, is that as these numbers increase, there has also been a decided upsurge of female gamers on other platforms as well. comScore Media Metrix, for example, found that women account for over 50% of unique visits to gaming sites not associated with social media. And more impressively, console gaming has also seen their female market rise exponentially. In the past two years, console platforms such as Xbox 360 and PS3 have seen female users rise by four percent. Importantly, the trend that is emerging demonstrates that female users are not only increasing, but are also deviating away from the more stereotyped female games, such as exercise and music.
Courtney Johnston, an Interpret LLC analyst, says that in regard to console gaming, woman “play games for less competitive and more narrative — and character-driven reasons” than men. This leads one to think that there may be a link between social gaming and the rise of female gaming overall. The nature of social games is often one which requires the user to partake in a strategically driven narrative, whether it’s building up a farm or taking care of fish in a virtual aquarium. The user is also expected to create a personalised avatar which drives the function of the game forward, and ultimately immerses the player directly into the game. And while it could be argued that most, if not all, games require the user to create an avatar of sorts, men and women create avatars for entirely different reasons. As Johnston highlighted, men are more concerned with gaining a competitive edge and ultimately conquering the game, while women far rather enjoy the ability to create and manage the narrative of a game.
Based on this, it is little wonder that female users have transferred their enjoyment of social gaming onto more sophisticated strategy-based console games. As console gaming has evolved, there has been a decided shift toward creating richer storylines, deeper immersion and overall, more social interaction. Many women enjoy social gaming because it allows them the opportunity to engage with “real-life” friends, with over 39% of them admitting that gaming is their primary form of interaction on social networks. Subsequently, it has to be said, that as online console gaming becomes more common place, even more women are likely to take up gaming, especially if developers realise the potential of social strategy games. It may be that in a few years, those nerdy, hunched over, white guys will be replaced by images of middle-aged, soccer moms, with headset and wireless controller in hand.