For a long time, gaming was considered a niche hobby, dominated by reclusive computer geeks and pimple-faced teenagers. That wasn't true then, and it's not true now, but it has taken decades for the general public to realize that video games are more than just ultra-violent adolescent power fantasies - not that there's anything wrong with those, of course.
Finally, however, the public is catching on. In a report issued this week, the Electronic Software Association (a trade association established by many of the gaming industry's top publishers) claims that over 155 million Americans are self-identified gamers. Further, 42% of Americans - roughly 134 million people - play video games for at least three hours a week. Four out of five United States homes have some kind of gaming device, and each household boasts, on average, two gamers.
According to the ESA, a gaming device is anything that plays games. Traditional game consoles appear in just over half (51%) of households, although PCs are actually the most popular gaming platform, with 62% of "frequent gamers" using one. Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones are also popular among dedicated gamers, with 35% using them for gaming, although the study doesn't disclose which platforms non-frequent gamers (players who spend fewer than three hours a week gaming) are using.
However, mobile gaming likely skews these figures more than the above figure suggests: two of three most popular genres, social games and puzzle games, dominate mobile platforms and social networking pages, but aren't all that well represented on dedicated gaming consoles.
As gamers have known for a while, the audience for video games isn't dominated by teenage boys, either. The average age of video game players is 35 years old, and women represent close to half (44%) of the video game audience. In fact, according to the ESA, there are more women over 18 years old who game than there are men 18 years or younger. As the debate regarding women's roles in gaming rages on, that's an excellent sign: gaming isn't a boys club, and the community should stop treating it like one.
These numbers sound like good news for the gaming community, but these figures come with one important caveat: the ESA is an organization founded and supported by video game publishers, and it has every motivation to present the video game industry in a positive light. After all, the ESA has been caught fudging the numbers before; as great as this report might be, take the whole thing with a healthy scoop of salt.