When you think of a hard-core gamer, do you picture a teenage boy battling his friends in World of Warcraft? Think again.
The average gamer, far from being a teen, actually is a 35-year-old man who is overweight, aggressive, introverted and... often depressed, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (download PDF).
The study also showed that the when children and teenagers become game players, a trend toward physical inactivity and corresponding health problems extends and exacerbates into adulthood.
"Among researchers, there is growing concern and uncertainty about the health consequences of video game playing," the CDC reported. "Given the ubiquity of video games - industry estimates suggest that they are played in 65% of American households - these concerns may be justified."
The study notes that half of gamers in the US are between 18 and 49 years old, while 25% are 50 and older. The CDC also pointed out that of online gamers aged 8 to 34, nearly 12% showed multiple signs of addiction.
The study, based on a 2006 online survey of 552 people between the ages of 19 and 90 who were living in the Seattle/Tacoma area of Washington state, also shows differences between male and female gamers.
Men reported that gaming gives them a "reason to get together", while women are looking more for a diversion that social interaction. Despite their differing reasons for playing, many of the health effects remained the same.
Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat, noted that his concern isn't just with gaming but with social networks, as well.
"My issue is that it's not just gaming. It's social networking. It's the web in general," said McGregor. "We've gained so much, but still it puts people in front of a computer screen for hours on end. It gives Americans just another reason to be fat, dumb and lazy."
According to the CDC, both male and female gamers were more likely to report being overweight, having more poor-mental-health days and being less socially outgoing. Women, however, were more apt to deal with depression and report more health issues than women who aren't gamers. For men, they reported more obesity.
"One interpretation of these findings is that, among women, video-game playing may be a form of digital self-medication.... In short, they can literally take their minds off their worries while playing a video game." noted the CDC. "Among men, the association among sedentary behaviors, physical inactivity and overweight status observed in children and young adults may extend into adulthood."