Gamer study reinforces stereotypes, players say

Tod Curtis says he’s “near 35, not fat, not bummed” and is an “extroverted video-game player who appreciates proper science.” The Bedford, Ind., man does not, however, appreciate the recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of adults ages 19 to 90.

The study found that the average age of video-game players is 35, that many male players have a higher body mass index (and are overweight) and that female players reported “greater depression” than women who don’t play video games.

“I've been playing video games since 1978, with the Atari 2600, when I was 6 years old,” said Curtis, who is now 37. “I play about four to eight hours per week, with a lot of variation. I had always planned to become a video-game designer/computer scientist, but pursued a career as an orthodontist instead.”

Curtis’ perspective is shared by many gamers. Some responded to the results of the study less eloquently on Newsvine and in e-mails with a collective lifting of a certain finger.

The anger is understandable. “No question there are gamers that fall into that stereotype, BUT, not all,” wrote HockyGodz on Newsvine.

“I grew up in the arcades in the ‘80s, have all the game systems, play regularly and I'm anything but fat and depressed. Have a gorgeous wife, 2 kids, 2 successful businesses. … Most of the people I know that play have similar success. … So we're not all couch-camping losers.”

Investigators from the CDC, Emory University and Andrews University analyzed survey data from 552 adults in the Seattle-Tacoma area, according to the study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The hypothesis was that male video-game players have a higher body mass index — the measure of a person’s weight in relation to their height — and women have “a greater number of poor mental health days” versus nonplayers, said Dr. James B. Weaver III of the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing. The hypothesis was correct, he said.

The Seattle-Tacoma area was chosen for the study, researchers said, both because of its size as the 13th largest media market in the United States and because its Internet usage level is “the highest in the nation.” The study was done in 2006; the results were analyzed in 2008.

While the study helps “illuminate the health consequences of video-game playing,” it is not conclusive, its researchers say, but rather serves to “reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of video-game playing and highlights avenues for future research.”

‘Another excuse’ to blame video games
“I would say this survey reveals absolutely nothing,” wrote Heather Hull on Newsvine. “Who isn’t overweight and depressed these days? Just another excuse for people to blame video games.

“Just because you are overweight, depressed, and a video gamer does not imply that these three things are linked. Not a real cause/effect situation here,” she wrote.

“I know plenty of people in their 30s, overweight and depressed, and they don't play video games. I also know plenty of people who play and are thin, happy, and outgoing. Being a video gamer does not mean you are a slob, lazy, or stupid! Perpetuating a poor stereotype? For shame.”

Joanna Luffman, of Boonville, N.C., called the article the “most insulting” piece she’s ever read. The 30-year-old mother said she’s an “FPS (first-person shooter) gamer, and I have no problem with real-life socializing. ... I’m rarely depressed, I’m not overweight, I’m happily married.”

Sylvia Taylor, 65, of El Paso, Texas, said she plays video games 12 to 14 hours on weekends, and started playing computer games with her children in 1987.

“I also work full-time and exercise on a treadmill or elliptical at least three times a week for a half-hour each session,” she said. “Playing video games keeps me occupied and away from the fridge ... unlike watching TV.”

And, she said, “If I get a video game with a good storyline, it’s much better than any book or movie because I get physically and mentally drawn into the story.”

‘Happy, healthy and very fit’
One gamer, who said he is 52, 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds, wrote on Newsvine that he plays video games six to eight hours a week and is doing just fine, mentally and physically.

“I eat very healthy, get lots of exercise and live an awesome active lifestyle with my beautiful wife. I have been a gamer for 14 years. My brother and nephews are gamers, too, and are happy, healthy and very fit.”

Some questioned the chicken-or-the-egg approach of the study: Are some people who play video games depressed or unhealthy to start with? Or is it that playing video games can exacerbate such conditions? Couldn’t it also help alleviate depression?

The answer could well be “yes” to all of the above, judging from feedback via Newsvine and e-mail.

“I’m 33, overweight, severely depressed, and love video games,” e-mailed one man. “When I play a video game, I feel like it’s the one part of my day I’m in control of things. That’s a big reason why I play.”

Yet another study, this one from online games site, surveyed 500 online game players, with 87 percent of them saying they get “a positive mood boost from playing online games,” and that 59 percent “play games online to help forget their worries and problems.”

As for the study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Tod Curtis said he hopes gamers “can look at this study and have a good laugh about it. Remember how ‘Doom’ was supposed to turn all gamers into psychotic killers?”

But, he said, “The downside is that the story further entrenches society’s traditional view of gamers as lazy basement dwellers, which the vast majority of us are not.” On the other hand, he continued, “Is there really anything wrong with that? Everyone needs some means of escapism from the stresses of society.”