How the social stigma against gamers is changing

Are you afraid to admit you’re a gamer at family dinners, or on a first date? Do you have to bite your tongue when someone puts gaming down? I didn’t think so. These days, people are no longer embarrassed about their gaming habits. And today, as millions of us socially distance ourselves, the stigma around gamers could finally be changing for good. How? Find out here. Asking someone if they are a gamer is like asking someone if they are into moving images

Working in front of a desktop

While a majority of people play video games, not all gamers are the same. Some of us play on our phones, some use games consoles, some play solo puzzle games to kill time while others engage in massive multiplayer games online.

Throughout my work with Ericsson ConsumerLab I’ve been fortune enough to spend a lot of time talking to consumers about their gaming habits and attitudes. In a study we conducted back in 2008, we saw that gaming had been and still was widely subjected to social stigma.

The perception of playing games came with a great amount of negative and unflattering associations. The general image of the gamer was that of a loner or nerd who was absorbed by their games. Even more interestingly, people who were playing games claimed they were not gamers!

No other type of media, be it video, music or books, was associated with this type of stigma. Gaming was in a league of its own. As one of the gamers we interviewed in 2008 told us:

“Even if I had a portable console, I’d never play it in public. It feels a little too much like a teenage thing, when you’ve got [game] consoles on the train and stuff. […] It’s a bit geeky to play games.”
Ellen, 20 years old, US

In the next gaming study that we conducted in 2013, we wanted to see if things had changed. During those 5 years, gaming had indeed grown in popularity, but no, the stigma was still there. As one of our respondents told us:

“I try to play by myself. There are opportunities to sign in with Facebook to play [with] friends or get more chips or other prizes, but to be honest I'm rather embarrassed about it.”
Female, 25-30 years old, US

Clearly five years was not enough to completely eradicate this stigma – so we decided to wait. And we waited some more…

In 2018, we finally decided it was time to check again. We pulled up our bootstraps and wandered into the world to find more gamers to speak to.

 “I don’t [feel embarrassed]. My friends play. All our girlfriends make fun of us, but we’re not embarrassed!”
Cheol, 29 years old, US


It seems that now the social stigma is finally lifting as gaming becomes even more mainstream. Acceptance for playing games is spreading, and as we conclude in the report Ready, Steady, Game! – with 77 percent of people aged 15-69 now playing video games, it’s becoming virtually impossible to be embarrassed because almost everyone is a gamer!

But how can gamers be better off during our period of social distancing, now that almost everyone is a gamer? I have to admit, I didn’t give you all the intel up front – just like crime novelists rarely tell you that the butler did it with a knife in the kitchen on the first page.

It all comes down to our need for social interaction.

A lot of people staying at home have been watching more video on streaming services like Netflix and HBO. In fact, a recent report from Conviva showed that globally, video streaming during March 17-23, 2020 increased by more than 20 percent compared to the previous two weeks! So, what is it about gamers that’s different? Well, we humans are also social creatures. We have social needs – entertainment is important, but so are social interactions with other human beings.

As another respondent told us during an interview:

“The things that factor into whether I buy a game or not is if my friends play the game.”
Patrik, 18 years old, Sweden

This is why gamers might handle social distancing somewhat better than non-gamers. Playing online video games is not only far more interactive than watching a video, but it also gives you direct access to your friends. The ability to socialize while playing video games was listed as important by 40 percent of gamers surveyed in the study. These gamers already have an established way of socializing online – so spending more time at home might not be such a big deal after all. As another gamer in the study nicely put it:

“I like to play online against guys from around the world, but then there are offline games where I just play by myself for an hour or two. One third of my gaming is probably online.”
Suresh, 25 years old, UK

Learn more

Find out the five things you need to know about 5G if you’re a gamer.

Read our report, Is Augmented Reality (AR) the next level of gaming?

Read our top 10 tips for working from home.

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