The Other Problem with that New York Times Article About Gamers

On May 2, 2017, The New York Times stated the following in an article about gamers:


This quote was also included in a tweet which was rightly lambasted and laughed at by gamers and people with common sense. Stereotyping is rarely accurate or productive, especially when you’re talking about 150 million people. For context, there are about 126 million households in the US. Imagine trying to create a stereotype out of all US households, combining situations where five students share a house with a millionaire living by themselves in a multi-million dollar New York penthouse.

The stupid stereotype is not what I want to focus on here. Instead, I’d like to take a closer look at the “150 million” part. The New York Times doesn’t provide a source for its figure of “America’s 150 million gamers,” however it almost certainly comes from annual reports by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Back in 2015, the ESA stated that America is home to 155 million gamers. Its two most recent reports have not mentioned the specific number of US gamers, so the 2015 report is still applicable.

From the ESA‘s report, it might look like The New York Times is being conservative in its estimate of 150 million US gamers. However, the ESA and The New York Times are talking about two very different types of gamers. Frustratingly, the ESA never defines what it considers to be a gamer. It includes people who play on console, dedicated handheld gaming devices, and VR headsets, however it also counts smartphones, tablets, and home computers as gaming devices. Plus, the ESA includes mobile revenue in its financial analysis. Mobile gamers are undoubtedly included in the ESA‘s total of 155 million gamers, although we don’t know to what extent that group shifts the numbers. Whatever the ESA uses as its definition of a gamer, it doesn’t appear to include a cut off for the amount of time spent playing games per week, month, or year. As far as I can tell, my mom’s casual Candy Crush sessions would lump her in as a gamer.

[As an aside, the ESA report is of debatable accuracy. Does anyone really believe that more than one in ten US households had a VR device as of early 2017? You’d have to include VR capable smartphones to get close to that number and, without a headset like Google Cardboard, there’s not much you can do with that anyway.]

To be clear, I am not disparaging mobile games or the people who play them. I don’t play them personally, however that’s not the point. The problem is that The New York Times took the ESA‘s data and applied it to a completely different category of gamers. This was either done knowingly or with a deliberate disregard for the facts. The stereotype included in the article is targeted at those who play and watch esports or Twitch/YouTube streams of video games. There are interviews with esports teams and references to celebrity events such as Drake playing Fortnite on Twitch for 648,000 viewers.

The author never attempts to clarify that not all of the quoted 150 million gamers are watching esports in person or on Twitch. There’s not one mention of the words Playstation, Xbox, or Switch (outside of “the industry is asleep at the switch”) and certainly no hint of mobile gaming.

The author attended an esports arena with 4,000 people and extrapolated that experience out to 150 million people. Imagine if I attended a Blake Shelton concert and then wrote an article claiming that everyone who listens to music likes to do it surrounded by huge US flags while making out with their cousins. We should always be careful with anecdotal evidence, but I will go on record as saying that nothing about being gathered together “elbow to elbow, controller to controller” eating hot pockets under cool lighting would appeal to my mom.

To reiterate, the major problem with the article is the lazy and insulting stereotype like the one I just made above. Even if the stereotype were limited to those who attend esports events, it would still be pathetic. The New York Times should be above this kind of reporting. Hell, I’d expect a college newspaper to be above this kind of reporting.

The New York Times’ misrepresentation of data in its clickbait tweet is far less important than the stereotype itself. It’s still annoying though. Basic journalism standards should prevent such nonsense from making it past an early draft. I’d love to say I’m amazed that this got past the editors at The New York Times; I’m not. This sort of lazy reporting is becoming increasingly par for the course, even at formerly prestigious institutions such as The New York Times. At least this time it’s just about video games.


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