Conventional MMOG wisdom states that the person controlling that sexy female elf probably isn't so sexy or female in real life. This study, however, reveals that a fair number of players are actually women, and, on top of that, women tend to be more dedicated than men. For Professor Scott Caplan, who led the research, the results show how antiquated stereotypes about online gaming may be. "What we think about men and women and videogames may have been true 10 or 15 years ago, when there were mainly console video games or single-player games," Caplan, who thinks our perceptions are caught in a "cultural time-lag", said. "I think a lot of our stereotypes are based on the way computer games have been, rather than where they're going."
The social nature of MMOGs is the main factor driving women to games like EverQuest, says Caplan. "What we're seeing now is that games become social, and as these online games become communities then the attraction for that kind of behaviour might increase for women," Caplan said. A high percentage of women surveyed reported playing the game with their romantic partner, lending credence to the idea that when women play, they do it with other people.
Interestingly enough, that romantic partner might not be of the kind you'd normally expect. The study reported a remarkably high proportion of women who play EverQuest II are bisexual, more than five times that of the general population. Gaming is a non-traditional activity for a woman to participate in, Caplan thinks, and by that token the women who are gaming might lead non-traditional lifestyles in general. "These are not people who are following strict gender stereotypes," Caplan said. "I think that the game itself is right now a very non-traditional activity for women, and so I think what you would find in this population are going to be people who are in other ways less traditional than the majority popuation."
If that weren't enough to shatter the stereotype of the MMOG player as the nerdy basement shut-in was the finding that MMOG players, especially the women, are healthier than the general population. This might just mean that EverQuest II is the lesser of two evils, however. "What we think might be at play is that it's not that games are good for you, it's that TV is bad for you," Dimitri Williams, a researcher who worked on the study, said. "With television, what you get is an endless stream of commercials telling you to buy things and to consume things, and what we think we're finding is that when you remove all that consumption impulse you are probably less driven to consume."
So MMOG players aren't all morbidly obese dudes? It can't be true, can it? Well, the catch with this study is the way it was conducted - players were asked to fill out a questionnaire in exchange for an in-game item. Were people totally honest, or were they just in it for the item, or, even worse, was it just a coalition of EverQuest II players who decided to get together to juke the stats and troll some academics? We'll never know unless we go into EverQuest II and ask for ourselves - and who wants to do that?