One of the most common sensations a video game widow experiences is feeling alone. After all, feeling tortured because you’re second fiddle to a video game sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. Many game widows don’t say it out loud. Most hide their game widow status in shame. Second only to the loneliness is the worry that being ignored for a video game is somehow your fault, and not the gamer’s. So we game widows don’t walk around confessing our situation. The game widows we’ve seen speak openly about it have either been used for a sensational news story and forgotten, or cast as either spotlight-seeking whiners or the butt of jokes.
But are game widows really alone? Only in the sense of social disconnection. In fact, game widowhood (and widower-hood) is a silent social phenomenon. Let’s crunch some conservative numbers to illustrate the size of our shadowy crowd.
If we’re talking Massively Multi-player Online (MMO) widows and widowers, it makes sense to work from the sales figures of the most popular MMO, World of Warcraft (WoW). According to a Blizzard Entertainment press release, there were 10 million people playing WoW as of July 2008. According to Nick Yee’s research, the average MMO player is spending 22 hours a week online. Of those gamers, 30.5% of MMO players are male and dating, 26.2% are female and dating, 33.1% are male and engaged, married or separated, and 60.3% are female and either engaged, married or separated. This means that there are more than five million adult female game widows either dating, engaged to, married to, or separated from a gamer who spends about 22 hours a week playing online, and about one and a quarter million adult men experiencing the same situation with a woman gamer.
If we’re talking worldwide game widow and widower numbers, it makes sense to go with the sales figures of the top-selling game console in history, the PlayStation2 by Sony. As of July 2008, Sony had sold 140 million PS2 consoles. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 33% of all gamers are women over the age of 18, and 42% are men over the age of 18. America Online (AOL) and the Associated Press did a poll that showed 33% of gamers are married and have kids. This leaves us with about 19 million female and about 15 million male game widow(er)s worldwide.
Even if you just want to talk about professional game widows, i.e. those in relationships with game developers, you’re talking a pretty large crowd. Nobody seems to be counting, but Jason Della Rocca, the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IDGA) once guesstimated that about 100,000 people were employed in making games. According to the IDGA Developer Demographics Report, 88.5% of game developers are male, and 11.5% are female. According to an IDGA Quality of Life white paper, 61.5% of spouses of game developers say they work too much. We can assume, then, that at least 61.5% of game developers have spouses. This all adds up to about 55,000 female game widows, and 7,000 male game widowers married to someone who not only plays video games, but goes through crunch time for weeks, if not months, to get video games to the store shelves on time. This demographic doesn’t just know what it’s like to be ignored for a video game, they know.
Now don’t go writing to me about my sloppy math, numbers geniuses of the world, unless you plan on helping me tighten these figures up in a helpful (and polite) way. I realize that there are gamers and game developers married to each other, and more MMO and console games than World of Warcraft and the PS2. I also realize that the number of players, consumers and developers shift on a yearly, monthly, and daily basis. But I also know these numbers don’t take into account parents of adult or underage gamers, adults with parents or siblings who game, etc. So really and truly, these are conservative numbers.
The next time you feel alone, as a man or woman, trying to figure out how to balance a relationship complicated by video games - don’t. Talk to the people you know, and you’ll be surprised to discover how many are also struggling to make sense of the personal impact of digital entertainment. They’ll also be delighted to know you understand and sympathize.
(Wendy Kays is the author of Game Widow, publishing on September 1st, 2008 at all quality online and offline booksellers. Sneak preview copies can be ordered at GameWidow.org.)