myths Nearly half of gamers are female, and other things you didnt knowThat’s right publishers, it’s time to stop neglecting games with female leads because you’re afraid they won’t sell (hint: they do, and not just to women). And gamers, it’s time to stop seeing the archetypal online player as a foul-mouthed adolescent boy. A new study from the ESA reveals that the gaming community is a lot more diverse (and a bit older) than many people think. As gamers everywhere come together for the annual newsfest that is E3, it seems appropriate to find out how common preconceptions about our community stack up with the facts. Let’s bust some myths!

Myth: Girl gamers are as rare as a polar bear in the rainforest.

Fact: According to the ESA study, females make up about 45% of the gaming population. In fact, there are more adult female gamers (31%) than there are male teenage gamers (19%). Why the misconception? I’d like to think that us girl gamers are just a heck of a lot less obnoxious about our love for games than the 13-year-old boy who insists he’s had sex with the mothers of everyone on the opposite team. More likely though, it has something to with the games industry itself being very male-dominated. Also, recent innovations in gaming have brought in a lot of people who only a few years ago might not have been interested; adult female gamers have been gaming for an average of 13 years, compared to 17 years for adult males.

Another interesting tidbit? In addition to being 45% of the gaming population, females are the most frequent purchasers of games 46% of the time.

Myth: Gamers are a relatively small minority.

Fact: 58% of Americans play video games, which makes us a majority. Quick, let’s run someone for president on a campaign of cheap games and no DRM for all! A majority (51%) of American households own a dedicated gaming console, and there’s an average of two gamers in each game-playing household. Of households who own at least one gaming console, the average number of consoles owned is two.

Myth: Most gamers are teenaged boys.

Fact: The age of the average gamer is 30; 32% of gamers are under 18, another 32% are between 18 and 35, and the remaining 36% are 36 and over. I’m sure part of that is parents playing with their kids (58% of parents do at least monthly), but more of it is because gaming is awesome and there’s no reason to give it up once you hit a certain age. The ESA survey even looked at why we love games so much: 43% of us think it’s a better value for the money than going to the movies or buying music/DVD’s. The reasons people give for buying a game include “quality of game graphics, an interesting storyline, a sequel to a favorite game, [and] word of mouth.”

Myth: Gamers are solitary creatures.

Fact: We all know the stereotype; overweight, living in mom’s basement, surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew. Luckily, it’s just not true; 62% of gamers play with others, either in-person or online. And everyone knows that playing with others is a lot more fun than playing with yourself; 77% of gamers who play with others do it for at least an hour per week. Who do we like to play with? A plurality (42%) of us play with friends, but significant others (16%), parents (16%) and other relatives (32%) are all good choices. After all, the more people we convert, the sooner we can take over the world. Speaking of which…

Myth: Smartphones are taking over!

Fact: With the massive success of mobile titles like Angry Birds and the fact that even console games are wanting us to use smartphones and tablets while playing, it’s easy to feel like smartdevices are taking over. If you think about it, there’s got to be way more people gaming on Androids and iPhones than Xbox’s and PlayStations right? Apparently not. More gamers play on a console (68%) or a PC (62%) than a smartphone (43%). They do have an advantage over handheld devices like the DS and Vita though; when on the go, gamers are more likely to use a smartphone for their fix (36%) than a handheld console (25%).

Myth: Digital distribution is taking over!

Fact: Well, this one is actually kind of true. The proportion of sales that are digital has doubled from 20% to 40% since 2009. That number isn’t entirely reflective of where we get our games though. The ESA’s digital sales figures include things like add-on content, mobile apps, and games on social networks. This means that buying a retail copy of a game and later purchasing two DLC packs would count as 1 physical sale and 2 digital sales, even though the DLC isn’t a full game. We probably have a while to go before digital truly takes over.

Myth: Games are corrupting the minds of children.

Fact: Contrary to what some misinformed politicians believe, kids aren’t going out behind their parents’ backs to buy games that brainwash them into becoming mindless killing machines. 93% of parents pay attention to what games their kids are playing, with 89% being present when the game is purchased. Most find ESRB ratings and console parental controls helpful in regulating what content their children are exposed to (88% and 86% respectively). 79% of parents put limits on how much time kids can spend gaming, compared to 78% and 72% who limit time spent on the internet and watching TV.

That might not sound like a ton of fun, but parents aren’t all about regulation; they’re also about participation. 35% of parents game with their kids on at least a weekly basis, and 52% see gaming as a positive influence. The most commonly cited positives are mental stimulation (71%), social interaction (62%) and family bonding (59%). Now isn’t that sweet?

Myth: Games are full of sex, violence, and criminality.

Fact: Sure, some games feature gratuitous violence, reckless driving, and nearly-naked characters. But those games are a minority; only 9% of 2012 releases were rated Mature, with far more falling into the lower ratings of Teen (24%), Everyone 10+ (22%), and Everyone (45%). That skews a bit more when looking at top selling games, of course. Of the top 10 best-sellers in 2012, half of them received an M rating. But if the average age of a gamer is 30, I think that’s okay.

Myth: Madden Warfare ’13 would be the best selling game of all time (Gamers only care about Madden and Call of Duty)

Fact: There are gamers who live for their annual installments of football and modern FPS. But while both shooters and sports games are in the top three best-selling genres, both of them are outdone by action titles. Shooters and sports games made up 21.2% and 15.3% of 2012 game sales, falling short of action games’ 22.3%. When you narrow the picture down to just PC game sales, shooters and sports games practically fall off the map. Shooters accounted for 6.2% of PC game sales in 2012, while sports were a mere 0.6%. Meanwhile, the top three genres on PC were role-playing (28%), casual (26.2%), and strategy (24.9%).

So there you go, folks. We gamers are an interesting bunch, and probably a lot more varied in age, gender, and gaming preferences than most people think. Were any of these stats particularly surprising to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.