Updated: Dec 7, 2020
The demographics of the video game industry have rapidly changed since we were first given Computer Space and Pong. Video game companies at the beginning catered to mostly straight men and men of color were underrepresented in both games and the video gaming community.
Consequentially women, other minority groups and LGBTQ+ groups have been overlooked by the industry, but no more.
The most recent study conducted by Newzoo found that the video gaming market of two countries—the United Kingdom and the United States—are “extremely diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity,” sexual orientation, and disability.
According to the factsheet published on their website, the consumer data they collected included more than 100 variables on the video gamers who participated. The variables were broken down into seven categories:
· Demographics (these are the statistics that were published publicly and the ones I’m discussing today)
· Game Behavior
· Media Behavior and Video Content
· Gaming Hardware and Peripherals
· Diversity and Inclusion—Video Games
· Key Franchises
· Game Publishers/Developers and Brands
Along with four demography statistics published, opinions about diversity and inclusion in video games were also published.
GENDER AND SEXUALITY
In both countries, 45 percent of video gamers identify as women, backing up a separate study previously conducted by Newzoo this year. Since the public findings released are only along a gender binary, it’s unclear if gender minorities had their own place in the study.
There was no public statistic present for gamers who identify as either transgender or nonbinary. Even though customization for characters in video games has gone on to include more gender-neutral items and options, being able to make your own character is not the same as having an already-made protagonist, such as the groundbreaking representation in Dontnod Entertainment’s Tell Me Why.
“LGBQ+” (the term used by Newzoo for this study) representation in the U.S. and the U.K. are similar; 14 percent of U.K gamers identify as being on the sexual orientation spectrum, as do 13 percent of gamers in the U.S.
While this statistic is completely valid for the study, it has the potential to be an underrepresented percentage of how many LGBQ+ gamers are actually in the communities. While four thousand members of the video game community participated in the study, it is possible some did not feel comfortable truthfully answering that part of the survey. Some queer gamers encounter homophobia online or in chatrooms. They may also not feel comfortable outing themselves yet, even in an anonymous study about themselves.
Alternatively, the numbers for the United States are higher in this category than the numbers put out by Nielson—they documented only ten percent of gamers over the age of 18 identifying as somewhere on the sexuality spectrum, out of 2,000 gamers ages 13 and up they surveyed.
Yet, the study by Newzoo asked its LGBQ+ gamers if they thought the sexual orientation of characters was well represented in video games. Twenty-six percent of U.S. LGBQ+ gamers said it is not well represented and 38 percent of U.K. gamers feel that the sexual orientation of characters is underrepresented.
DISABILITY AND ETHNICITY
The disability demographic for the study included mental and physical disabilities. 30 percent of gamers in the United States said they have a disability and twenty percent of gamers in the U.K. said they do.
The statistic makes sense. People suffering from mental illness such as anxiety or depression tend to turn to video games as a coping mechanism. Xbox has an adaptive controller, which I fondly remember being first advertised during the Christmas season I came out of the hospital from combating my own disability. On Sunday, Twitch announced donating one million dollars to AbleGamers, a charity dedicated to improving the “quality of life for people with disabilities through the power of video games.”
It’s never publicly said which disabilities were the most common in the diverse gaming community (nor is it particularly necessary), but this statistic can be paired with an opinion shared by 44 percent of U.K. and 56 percent of U.S. study participants:
Disabled gamers believe accessibility options in video games have improved.
However, due to the varying demographics of both the United Kingdom and the United States, ethnic representation in their gaming markets are vastly different.
In the U.S. one-third of the gamers who participated in the study identified as Black, Hispanic or Asian. U.K. gamers from ethnic minority groups make up 13 percent of the participating video game community.
Without knowing the demographic makeup of each country, one might think this 20 percent margin is significant. When you consider their populations, though, it is perfect.
Black, Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States collectively make up 36 percent of the country’s general population of over 328 million. In the United Kingdom, ethnic groups make up 13 percent of their general population.
It seems strange for the United Kingdom in terms of ethnic groups, both percentages are 13 percent. In this, consider what the 100 percents are. Even though over 4,000 gamers participated in the study being discussed, 2,103 of the gamers were from the United Kingdom, which has a general population of more than 66 million.
Even though the ethnic makeup of gamers has changed since the beginning of the creation of video games, developers still have work to do when it comes to representation. Over half of U.S. gamers and 47 percent of U.K. gamers say they didn’t play a game because they felt like the game wasn’t “meant for them.”
This opinion pairs with the statistic finding that less than half of U.K. gamers, and more than half of U.S. gamers, think it’s important for video games to include diverse characters. Gamers want to see more characters that look like them when they play, not to mention the impact video game representation can have on children who are starting to play games on their own or with their parents.
I like to imagine that a lot of children of color will be excited to receive a copy of Spider-Man: Miles Morales for the holidays this year. It could be their very first time owning a game where the protagonist looks like them or maybe a friend of theirs.
Bringing in more diverse characters to video games could also mean gamers are aiming to be more conscious about putting money toward companies who care about them.
45 percent of U.S. gamers and 46 percent of U.K. gamers want companies to take an active stance on societal issues. Ubisoft, Nintendo, Activision and Blizzard and Sony all made statements at the start of the summer denouncing racism and ensuring they’re fighting for equality for all gamers.
Gamers want to feel like they’re being listened to by companies and that the struggles of their everyday lives outside of video games are being understood. And they no longer just want statements on social media saying so--they want to actively see changes being implemented and stances being actively taken.
In the last 15 years, with the rise of internet accessibility all over the world, video games have slowly come to have a further reach in society. More often than not, video games end up taking elements of the real world to create their own worlds and end up profiting off of them.
Gamers also believe they have the right to know if a game or a company they’re buying from supports the rights of its players.
Even though these statistics and this study were conducted to help video game markets, its findings do have far-reaching implications for us as gamers. It opens up our eyes to the fact that video games just aren’t for straight white males anymore, nor are they only meant for the physically abled or the neurotypical.
I am confident that these statistics have the potential to change the video gaming industry over the next 10 years as the industry and community become more diverse and our lives become more digital and technological.