When you think of a hard-core gamer, do you picture a teenage boy battling his friends in World of Warcraft?
The average gamer, far from being a teen, actually is a 35-year-old man who is overweight, aggressive, introverted — and often depressed, according to a report out this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (download PDF). The study also showed that the when children and teenagers become game players, a trend toward physical inactivity and corresponding health problems extends and exacerbates into adulthood.
I suspect what the author meant is that gamers are not "often depressed" but "more often depressed" than non-gamers. Regardless, I have not dissected the seven-page study's methodology (statistics aren't my strong suite), nor do I mean to suggest the results, if valid, should be quelled. But from headlines and sound bites of stories such as this one, many readers will infer a causation where there is only correlation; that is, they'll assume video games cause gamers to be overweight and sad, when chances are that overweight, depressed people may turn to video games as an accessible escape from their issues. (As one Slashdotter put it, "You could probably replace [the headline's] 'gamer' with 'person' and still be accurate.")
It's inarguable that gamers can be a positive force in other people's lives — charities like Child's Play and TheSpeedGamers have made that abundantly clear. But can gamers themselves benefit from the experience? Yes: video games have been proven to relieve pain and stress in hospital patients. The Washington Post this week outlined additional health benefits.
With the casual gaming made popular by the Wii, the definition of "gamer" is changing. No longer an esoteric pursuit, video games, now found in 65% of American households, have become mainstream. Yet still we're plagued with the stereotype that gamers are losers incapable of getting a girlfriend. How long until that 35% minority sees that our moral panic over video games is a symptom, not the problem itself?