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Women play harder than men in online games, study finds

December 29, 2009 | 11:42 am
EverQuest II
One in five players of EverQuest II, the online role-playing game above, is female. Credit: Sony Online Entertainment.

The words "You play like a girl" could turn out to be the ultimate compliment.

When it comes to online role playing games, women spent more time playing than men, according to a University of Southern California study of gender differences among gamers. Among those who played EverQuest II, a game developed by Sony Online Entertainment, women spent 29 hours a week in the game, compared with 25 hours for men.

"The women play more intensely than the guys," said USC economist Dmitri Williams, who co-authored the study with Mia Consalvo of Ohio University, Nick Yee of the Palo Alto Research Center and Scott Caplan of the University of Delaware. "They're less likely to quit, and they're happier playing."

The discovery is one of several stereotypes refuted by the study. Contrary to the image of the overweight nerd glued to his computer, gamers in the study were no less fit than the general population. In fact, women who played EverQuest II tended to exercise more and weigh less than the average American. 

Another shattered stereotype: The pimply teenage gamer. The average age of the 7,000 players in the USC survey was 31, and gamers in their 30s outnumbered those in their 20s.

But the study also affirmed many gender tropes. For example, women ...

... played less aggressively, while men tended to focus more on achievement. Those styles played into traditional gender roles of the nurturing female and the heroic male.

This was especially true when couples played the game together. The men played more aggressively, while their female partners toned down the violence.

Women are also more likely to play the game with someone else -- six in 10 female gamers played with a romantic partner, but only 1 in 4 men do. Women were happier when they played with someone else, while men reported being happier playing by themselves.

Why does this matter? In part, because developers have puzzled for years to figure out ways to get women to buy and play more games. Figuring out what motivates them to play is a key step.

Here's one thing that doesn't seem to motivate women: Bragging rights. Women consistently under-report the amount of time they play. Women report playing 26 hours a week, but actually played 29. Men said they played 24 hours, but played 25.

Women "play more than they admit," Williams said.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

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