Left: Guy from South Park’s WoW Episode; Right: Mr. T. in WoW commercial

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If you have played an MMORPG before and have chosen to tell a non-MMORPG player about playing said MMO, there is a good chance that the person you told gave you a weird look as if he was thinking something along the lines of: “But you don’t look like someone who plays MMOs.” or “I knew it. This person definitely looks like someone who plays MMOs.” This is because somehow, in the history of gaming, MMO players have been assigned an often negative stereotype. It seems like the general public is stuck on particular notions or ideas of how MMO players live, spend their time, and interact (or, according to them, don’t interact).

Not surprisingly, many of the stereotypes and stigmas that people hold toward MMOs and MMO players are wrong. For the rest of this blog post, I will examine some of these stigmas and stereotypes, compare them to statistical data on MMORPG player demographics and analyze whether or not there is any basis in these beliefs.

Note: Unless otherwise stated, data comes from The Daedalus Project.

Stereotype 1: “Almost all MMO players are male.” (Gender)

Actually, this stereotype is somewhat accurate. Most players are male. However, the percentage of male players is not as overwhelming as many people believe. Although the percentage of male players may have been greater in the past, currently only 60% of MMO players are male (BBC) and this percentage continues to shrink as more and more females are starting to play MMOs.

Stereotype 2: “Only single people play MMOs.” (Marital Status)

This stereotype is actually quite wrong. It turns out that 36% of MMO players are married or engaged. Females, however, are more likely to be married/engaged than males, feeding the “single male” stereotype. It is important to note that the 36% number does not include people who are currently in relationships who are not either married or engaged, so the real number of “non-single” players is probably quite a bit higher than 36%.

Stereotype 3: “People who play MMOs only play the game by themselves.”

There seems to be a general belief that MMOs are solitary games where people play by themselves. Besides the fact that what MMORPG stands for proves it wrong ( Massively Multi-playerOnline Role Playing Game, multi-player as in more than one person), there is statistical evidence that proves that most subscribers play and prefer to play with other people. 59% of females and 56.5% of males tend to group with other people. Almost 20% of females and 24% of males play solo due to “schedule constraints” or “lack of good groups.” 14.4% of females and 13.9% of males have no preference towards grouping or soloing and only 6.6% of females and 5.3% of males actually prefer to play alone.

Stereotype 4: “People who play MMOs tend to play with strangers that they don’t know in real life.”

Similarly, the belief that MMO players only play with strangers that they met through the game is wrong. 80% of players normally play with someone that they know in real life. Of this number, 25% play with romantic partners, with females being more likely to play an MMO with their partner. 19% play the game with their family members. The younger or older someone is, the more likely they are to play with a family member, with the 23-28 year old range being the least likely to play with a family member. Additionally, the family member is normally a brother or son, with older female players being more likely to play the MMO with their son. Finally, 70% of the people that play with someone that they know in real life play the MMO with a friend. In the younger age ranges, males were more likely to play the game with a friend, but the gender difference decreases as age increases.

Stereotype 5: “Most people who play MMOs are unemployed.” (Occupational Status)

This is another incorrect stereotype. Everyone seems to be aware that MMOs cost a lot of money to play, yet it never occurred to them that most people would need a job to fund this play. Over 50% of MMO players work full-time. Another 12% are working part-time and/or attending school part-time. 22% are full time students, 3% are home-makers, 1% are retired, and only 10% are unemployed. There is not a significant gender difference among the unemployed, proving that it is untrue that mainly males are unemployed.

Stereotype 6: “Most people spend an unhealthy amount of time playing MMOs.” (Hours of Play)

It is very difficult to define what “an unhealthy amount of time” is, so instead I’ll compare MMO playing time to the time that an average American spends watching TV. According to an AC Nielsen survey, the average American spends 28 hours watching TV each week. MMO players only spend about 21 hours per week on their game of choice, but only 7.7 hours per week watching TV. This brings them to about 29 hours spent on TV and MMOs combined, which is very close to the national TV “watching time” average. This suggests that MMO players are no less healthy in their habits than the average American TV watcher, whether you consider that amount of time to be “unhealthy” or not.

With these facts in mind, it is clear that many of the stereotypes about MMO players are quite wrong. Although there are certainly people out there who fit the classic MMO player stereotypes, there is no data to support that these stereotypes can be fairly applied to MMO players as a whole. Indeed, MMO players are a very diverse crowd, with only one similarity necessarily in common: they’re there to have fun.