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What Kind of Person Plays a Sports Video Game? MIT Has the Answers.

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More than a year ago, Abe Stein of the Game Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reached out to me about a survey he was conducting, an examination of sports video gamers. Stein, himself a committed sports gamer, wanted to know who made up this segment of gaming—long viewed as an outlier to the main gaming culture—and what motivated them.

His findings were finally published on Nov. 20 in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. There aren't many surprises in what was uncovered from a survey of 1,718 gamers (all over 18 years old), many of them coming from readers of this site.

Sports gamers are overwhelmingly white and male, and a significant plurality are between 18 and 24 years old. After sports video games, their preferred genres are shooters (68.3 percent) followed by action games (59.4 percent) and action RPGs (50.1 percent). MMOs ranked last on a sports gamer's preferred alternate genres, at 16.4 percent. Nearly 82 percent said they did not play games on social networks such as Facebook. Bro-gamer city, in other words.


The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were neck-and-neck as platforms—60.3 percent of respondents playing the (PS3) to 60 percent of them also playing the 360, with the PC just behind them at 58 percent, reflecting some multiplatform overlap, of course. What was interesting to me is the fact that 40 percent—a plurality by a wide margin—only "occasionally play" sports video games online. Respondents were asked to rate their frequency of online play on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the most. 1 (the least) beat 3 and 4's percentages combined. Clearly, more sports video gamers are playing against the CPU than each other. The researchers didn't ask why, but said they would in future surveys.

Stein and his colleagues (Mia Consalvo of Concordia University and Konstantin Mitgutsch, of MIT) asked the survey respondents to describe a meaningful experience they had in a sports video game. "We expected a few replies," the authors wrote, "but amazingly, 56 percent of all the respondents answered the question, in many cases in great detail.


"The vast majority (91%) of players, who answered provided examples of meaningful experiences that they remembered and that appeared significant to them," the authors wrote. "The replies ranged from short statements to detailed reports, and included very private and emotional stories. None of the 882 stories were identical and therefore the subjective, biographical and contextual framing of these experiences were important to capture."

The survey is available online, though the professional journal publishing it requires a subscription or a $25 fee to view all of it. In summary, Stein and his colleagues say that they "still lack knowledge on how these players relate their passion for video games to their sports fandom in general," and that the matter merits additional studies.


Convergence: November 2012 [Convergence]