here, and the PBS story is found here. The PBS story puts it more bluntly -- adult women are the largest video-game playing demographic, now larger than teenage males. (I have to emphasize that this is all about the United States, which doesn't take into account the much larger number of people in the remainder of the world. But that's not what they were trying to do, it seems.) Adult women now make up 48% of gamers.
I thought this was interesting, partly because of something I thought when I read a blog post by another blogger some weeks ago, and I commented on it here; adult heterosexual women assume they are the dominant modality in SL. I'll confess that this idea for me is relatively unexamined; something that I assumed but had never really thought about until the other day. I generally hate it when people go around with unexamined assumptions, so I'm rather ashamed of myself, but at least I'm moving forward.
There are a lot of things about the basic design of SL that are more attractive to women than men, at least that's how it seems to me. It's an environment that values precision in detail, good communication skills, strong visual presentation abilities, and an ability to "invest" (to psychologically merge) in an avatar seamlessly. In my experience, women are good at those things. As well, SL's focus on visual presentation abilities is quite a bit about clothes, and -- well, I think it's true that 75% of the words in the English language that describe clothing, only describe women's clothing. Women totally rule that world cognitively and in that sense they have a huge vocabulary while men struggle along with the basic 500 nouns. There is no male equivalent of, say, "peplum", "leg-o'-mutton sleeve", "dolman" or "kick-pleat", and those are representative of literally thousands of unique words to describe women's clothing. If it's about clothing, it pretty much has to be about women's clothing, in real life or SL.
I used to think that the real-estate model was locked in place the day that Anshe Chung appeared on the cover of Business Week (2006, found here) ... now, I'm not so sure. MMOs have evolved and there are different funding models. I saw some data recently that suggest that the economic driver of Second Life is middle-aged white American women buying new hair for their avs, but I have to confess that I extracted that startling statement by aggregating a lot of data points into something reasonable. A middle-aged white American woman is the "average user" of Second Life, because as noted above she is now the average user of internet-based gaming, and the economic transaction that most frequently takes place in Second Life is the acquisition of new hair. So if a lot of middle-aged white American women are spending money in Second Life for updos at a slightly less profligate rate than they lavish on Hay Day, Angry Birds and The Sims, that's good enough to ensure that the servers will be available to run the dance clubs for gay men. I for one welcome our new midwestern housewife overlords.
It's always been my sense that there are lots more women in SL than men but recently I set out on a research quest to see what I could see. Before I give a question like this a lot of thought, I always like to see what the numbers say and go from there. To my surprise, there's bugger-all readily available. The closest available data points are seven or eight years old. All I can think is that Linden Labs for some reason decided that that kind of demographic information was proprietary ... I can sort of understand that economically. They must be telling advertisers something to suggest what kind of market they'll get, but I don't see that information readily available. They seem to think that "the world's largest user-generated virtual goods economy" is good enough and, you know, they may be right.
I have to say that my experience is probably guiding me in one direction; I'm a gay man who hangs around in SL with other gay men, in gay men's spaces and clubs, etc. I routinely accept invitations that state clearly I must be manifesting a male av in order to attend, because I always am and I like those spaces. And it's no more onerous in SL to keep to that than it would be in RL to wear closed-toe shoes to a bar. My experience is so overwhelmingly among male avs invested by people whom I believe to be almost exclusively gay men in real life that I have to think that my expectation of the number of women is hopelessly skewed.
It occurred to me that it was possible that -- well, this gets complicated. My premise I'll start with is that adult women represent about 60% of Residents. Of the other 40%, about 60% of THEM are gay men. Factoring in a small number of gay women, here's how it comes out -- 55% straight women, 25% gay men, 15% straight men, 5% gay women, and all these figures have to be taken with a pound of salt. Just my best guesstimate. Something that plays into it is the availability of many other MMOs where adult straight men would prefer to spend their time killing monsters, and each other.
What's your take? Are women players the largest group in SL? If so, what could that mean for the future of Second Life -- or Second Second Life?
PS: As I occasionally do, in order to illustrate this story I harvested pictures from the internet. If you own any of these pictures and object, I'll be happy to remove your pictures upon request. I just thought they were good pictures, is all.
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