2020 EDSIG Proceedings: Abstract Presentation

What is a Gamer? An exploration of culture, identity and belonging

Jennifer Breese
Pennsylvania State University

Tatiana Zwerling
Penn State University

Jeffery Chiampi
Penn State Wilkes-Barre


The purpose of this abstract is to support further research exploring how gamers chose whether to identify themselves as gamers or not and why? Duggan (2015) found that 50% of men and 48% of women play video games in some form or fashion be it on consoles, mobile applications, or computers; however, a striking number of both populations shun the descriptor of ‘gamer.’ Men identified themselves as gamers at a rate nearly four times that of women who said the same. The identification statistics garner even further interest when the actual identification number of 15% of men and 6% of women is reported (Duggan, 2015).

The Duggan (2015) report from the Pew Research Center focused primarily on traditional gender roles or heteronormative with an additional review of ethnicities. A limited number of authors are looking at gender with regard to feminism (Gray et al., 2018) in video games aside from potentially more obvious masculinity potential issues (Taylor & Vorhees, 2018) and the Gamergate controversy. Gamergate has been a blanket term used to describe the controversy of gender harassment or more specifically a backlash against a perceived feminism increase in video games. Ruberg and Shaw (2017); Ruberg (2019, 2020); Shaw and (2015) have delved heavily into gender specifically Queer and TGBTQ gaming overall.

Paaßen et al (2016) found that, at best, the male gamer stereotype is only partially accurate but is seemingly compatible with the male identity. They concluded that an underlying hostility towards women in gaming and an incompatibility between the female and gamer identities results in fewer women identifying themselves as gamers despite playing many of the same games as men. Player gender identities influence marketing and sales. Near (2013) found that cover art containing only central female characters is negatively associated with game sales. The study indicates that male characters and non-central female characters do not threaten the “masculinity” of the game and are positively associated with sales. Of the game art studied 7% showed only female characters and 42% showed only male characters.

Kowert et al. (2012, 2014) conducted two separate assessments of the gamer stereotype. In their 2012 study they found that people surveyed perceived gamers as “unpopular, unattractive, idle, and asocial.” Kowert et al. (2012) note that this stereotype matches common depictions of gamers and gamer culture as portrayed in film, television, and online forums. Paaßen et al (2016) report that several studies have found that on average, women tend to spend less time playing video games than men. However, the researchers further note that the studies reviewed all presented game-play time that was self-reported by the gamers and that this information is typically underreported by men by about 1 hour and by women by approximately 4 hours. According to Williams et al. (2009) underreporting is usually attributed to “issues of social desirability.” Connecting underreporting video-game play to cognitive dissonance theory, Kahn et al. (2014) found that players who did not connect with the gamer stereotype were more likely to underreport their time. Furthermore, Kahn et al. (2014) attributed the gender disparity in the underreported game play times to “be a result of social-desirability bias given that video games have been seen as more of a masculine activity.”


Duggan, M. (2015, December 15). Who plays video games and identifies as a “gamer”? Retrieved June 16, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/12/15/who-plays-video-games-and-identifies-as-a-gamer/

Kahn, A. S., Ratan, R., & Williams, D. (2014). Why We Distort in Self-Report: Predictors of Self-Report Errors in Video Game Play? Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(4), 1010–1023. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12056

Kowert, R., Griffiths, M. D., & Oldmeadow, J. A. (2012). Geek or Chic? Emerging Stereotypes of Online Gamers. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 32(6), 471–479. https://doi.org/10.1177/0270467612469078

Kowert, R., Festl, R., & Quandt, T. (2014). Unpopular, Overweight, and Socially Inept: Reconsidering the Stereotype of Online Gamers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(3), 141–146. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2013.0118

Near, C. E. (2012). Selling Gender: Associations of Box Art Representation of Female Characters with Sales for Teen- and Mature-rated Video Games. Sex Roles, 68(3–4), 252–269. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0231-6

Paaßen, B., Morgenroth, T., & Stratemeyer, M. (2016). What is a True Gamer? The Male Gamer Stereotype and the Marginalization of Women in Video Game Culture. Sex Roles, 76(7–8), 421–435. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0678-y

Ruberg, B. (ed.), & Shaw, A. (ed.). (2017). Queer Game Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ruberg, B. (2019). Video Games Have Always Been Queer. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Ruberg, B. (2020). The queer games avant-garde: how Lbgtq game makers are reimagining the medium of video games. Durham: Duke University Press.

Shaw, A. (2015). Gaming at the edge: sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Taylor, N., & Voorhees, G. (2018). Masculinities in play. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Williams, D., Yee, N., & Caplan, S. E. (2008). Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(4), 993–1018. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2008.00428.x