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Sixty-four percent of American adults, or 214.4 million people, play video games, according to a report by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which represents the game industry.
ESA CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis said in a speech at the Games For Change Festival that 41% of gamers are female. And the average age of gamers is now 35 to 44 years old. Forty-six million gamers have disabilities, according to the AbleGamers Charity. And a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons in 2019 found 44% of Americans over age 50 enjoy games at least once a month, up from 38% in 2016.
Those numbers — updated today for 2020 — indicate that gaming is becoming more mainstream than ever. But the numbers also tell us how vital video games have become to our mental health and peace of mind. Pierre-Louis talked about how COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on society and said games have helped alleviate some of the pain of self-isolation and social distancing. Games are spreading not only through consoles and PCs, but through smartphones, as 61% of adult gamers play on smartphones, while 52% play on consoles and 49% on PCs.
In his speech, Pierre-Louis brought up events that have rocked the nation in recent weeks — the death of George Floyd and the sexual harassment problems within the video game industry.
“Near the end of May, we added ‘8 minutes and 46 seconds’ to our lexicon. The brutal killing of George Floyd sparked a renewed dialogue on racial inequality — its history, its ongoing impact, and what ‘Black Lives Matter’ means beyond a hashtag,” Pierre-Louis said. “More recently, another hashtag — ‘MeToo’ — has resurfaced to remind us that the world our industry seeks to build needs to respect every member of our community and empower the voices that need to be heard.”
He added, “All of these events are reminders that our industry does not operate in a vacuum. And neither do our games. We are all impacted by these events, but our response will be the most critical thing we leave behind. What we do now will shape the narrative of our industry for the next generation of game developers, players, and leaders.”
While acknowledging the seriousness of the issues at hand, he found a silver lining in the industry.
“The good news is that we have a lot to celebrate in where we are as a community today. Amid all of this sobering news — amid a health crisis, amid an economic crisis, and amid moral crises that will define a generation — video games have emerged as an important respite for so many people around the world. In many ways, there has probably never been a better time to celebrate what games mean to us or to enjoy how they bring us together.”
He said the nation is at an “inflection point,” adding “you might call it a game-changing moment [for video games].” The World Health Organization, which last year categorized gaming addiction as a medical condition, welcomed the game industry’s participation in the #PlayApartTogether, which encouraged people to stay home, wash their hands, and practice social distancing. Pierre-Louis said several medical studies released over the past year tell us that video game play can increase emotional intelligence among adolescents and lead to positive emotional outcomes for players overall. That is becoming anecdotally clear during the pandemic, he said.
The game industry also raised tens of millions of dollars for COVID-19 relief. If you factor in gifts by related corporate entities, that amount exceeds $100 million.
U.S. game sales rose by 73% in April and 52% in May, compared to the same periods a year earlier. Those numbers are expected to come back to earth, but Pierre-Louis predicted some gains will be permanent as new players join the ranks of dedicated gamers. As for social contact, 65% of players surveyed said they play games with someone else, either in person or online.
The survey was conducted online by Ipsos in December 2019, and nearly 4,000 adults participated.
Among other benefits Pierre-Louis highlighted, video games are inspiring new generations of learners to consider STEM careers. In fact, girls who play video games are 3 times as likely to earn a college degree in a STEM field. Video games are also increasingly used in physical rehab, which is particularly useful in the age of social distancing. And in June of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a video game as a treatment for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Now that’s progress,” Pierre-Louis said.