New Study: Women Spend More Time in Virtual Worlds Than Men

USC Logo Pixels and Policy has looked at how gender idealization pushes some women to oversexualize their avatars, but it doesn't seem to be dissuading girls from gaming.

A new study by University of Southern California Professor Dmitri Williams shows that women spend more time in-world than men despite being in the minority of total gamers.

Pixels and Policy takes a look.

Girl Power Leveling

A great article in USC News outlines how Williams – the first researcher granted access to the virtual data aggregated by Everquest 2's servers – sifted through 7,000 user accounts to build a comprehensive chart of just who is spending the most time in the virtual world. 

Sony Online Entertainment, the brains behind Everquest, has proven willing to let researchers dig through their economic and demographic data in the past. A team led by Indiana University's Edward Castronova made use of reams of Everquest economic data in their recently released paper comparing the Everquest in-world economy to real world economic cycles.

Interestingly, Williams played a role in that study as well, no doubt due to his access to Everquest's treasure-trove of data. But now Williams has taken virtual research in a different direction, away from raw economics in favor of anthropology. Some of the interesting statistics in the article:

• The top 10 percent of female players averaged nearly 57 hours per
week, eight more than male players. “A subset of the women are very
hardcore players,” Williams said.

• Female players – especially the older ones – weighed less and
exercised more than males or females in the general population. Male
players reported fitness levels similar to non-players.

• Female players were five times more likely to report a bisexual
orientation: 15 percent, compared to about 3 percent of women in the
general population.

There's some really interesting data here, and it's useful not only to future game developers. Yesterday we discussed how virtual worlds are still potentially flawed research tools when the researcher is trying to make comparisons between the real and virtual worlds.

This is because, as the data above shows, the virtual world subset is often quite different than a real-world sample. However, when the data is culled entirely from in-world studies, sometimes the information can serve a valuable purpose.

For example: Why do "hardcore" girl gamers appear more physically fit than their male counterparts? This is an area where further study could open up new initiatives to get kids and teens in shape without coming down against video games as the enemy. 

Expanding Responsible Virtual Worlds Research

USC's research also shows that virtual worlds are fascinating test beds for more than economic research. Perhaps our perceptions of video gamers prohibit us from a close analytical look at the social aspect of gaming, but as Williams' USC research shows, there are interesting pockets of counterintuitive behavior. These deserve to be studied.

According to USC News and Williams, the research is already improving our understanding of what types of players engage in intensive online gaming:

Contrary to another stereotype – that of the teenage game player – the average age of the 7,000 players surveyed was 31.

“We found that older players were more typical,” Williams said.
There were more players in their 30s than in their 20s, and playing
time tended to increase with age.

The resulting discrepancy between actual playing time and players’
own estimates potentially calls into question 30 years of game research
based on self-reported data, Williams said.

If misconceptions that have persevered for three decades can be overturned by one piece of groundbreaking research, imagine what larger studies could reveal. Developers would gain access to even better market data, and in return players would receive a better gaming experience.

More than that, though, the research into virtual worlds pioneered by Williams can tell us something interesting about ourselves. It not only expands our view of who plays online games, but removes stigmas that may be preventing potential gamers from indulging in a new and interesting hobby.

Further research may yield interesting research on our social interactions and how we behave in an increasingly digital world. Virtual worlds are rapidly transcending the title of "games," and workplaces are moving online in shocking numbers. An understanding of how we work and play in the virtual world will be essential to the long-term success of virtual business.

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