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Tens of millions of disabled consumers have gravitated to “casual” videogames as a source of relief or distraction from their infirmities, as well as a sense of accomplishment or belonging, according to an Information Solutions Group survey conducted for PopCap Games?(via CNET News Blog).

More than one in five (20.5%) players of casual videogames have a physical, mental or developmental disability – compared with 15.1% of the American population overall who are disabled, according to the latest US Census data.

Compared with the casual gamer population as a whole (which estimates peg at 300 million to 400 million players worldwide), those with disabilities play more frequently, for more hours per week, and for longer periods of time per gaming session.

They also report that they experience more significant benefits from playing and view their game-playing activity as a more important factor in their lives than do non-disabled consumers.

Below, the findings issued by PopCap.

Profile of Respondents

A total of 13,296 casual game players responded to the survey, with 2,728 respondents (20.5%) identifying themselves as “mildly” (22%), “moderately” (54%) or “severely” (24%) disabled. Of those, 46% indicated that their primary disability was physical, 29% said it was mental, and 25% stated they had a developmental or learning disability.

Over two thirds (69%) of disabled respondents were female, and a third (35%) of all respondents had another person – parent, adult offspring, spouse, guardian or caregiver – assist them in taking the survey.

The most common types of disabilities and medical conditions cited by respondents, by category, were as follows:

  • Physical: Rheumatoid Arthritis/Osteoarthritis (14%); Fibromyalgia (11%); Multiple Sclerosis (7%).
  • Mental: Moderate/Severe Depression (41%); Bipolar Disorder (16%); Anxiety Disorder (15%).
  • Developmental/Learning: ADD/ADHD (46%); Autism (15%); Dyslexia (11%).

The majority (61%) of those survey respondents with a physical disability are age 50 or older, while slightly more than half (52%) of those with a developmental/learning disability are under 18 years of age.

Perceived Benefits of Play

Fully 94% of disabled players of casual games said they believe playing casual games “provides physical or mental benefits” – compared with 80% of casual game players overall.

The most common benefits cited by disabled gamers (when asked to choose as many as applied) were stress relief (81%), mood lifting (69%), distraction from issues related to disability (66%), improved concentration (59%) and mental workouts (58%).

Interestingly, the top benefits varied significantly based on the type of disability; the top three benefits by disability type were as follows:

  • Physical: Stress relief (84%) and distraction from issues related to disability (73%)
  • Mental: Stress relief (87%) and mood-lifting (78%)
  • Developmental/Learning: Improved concentration (79%) and improved coordination/manual dexterity (73%)

Those with developmental/learning disabilities cited learning (pattern recognition, spelling, typing skills) far more often (61%) than those with disabilities that were mental (26%) or physical (23%).

Furthermore, 77% of disabled players said playing casual games provides them with “additional benefits over and above what a typical non-disabled player might experience.”

Of the “additional benefits,” responses were numerous and varied, often citing deeper sensations of achievement and “belonging,” or distraction from loneliness and/or chronic pain.

Playing Habits

Among all disabled gamers, nearly two-thirds (64%) said they play casual games every day, and an additional 28% play several times per week. By comparison, 57% of casual game players overall say they play daily.

In terms of time spent playing, disabled gamers are more “avid consumers” than the average casual game player:

  • 60% of disabled gamers play casual games for five or more hours per week (vs. 52% of casual gamers overall).
  • 40% of disabled gamers play for 10 or more hours per week (vs. 29% of overall casual gamers).
  • 24% of disabled gamers play for 16 or more hours per week (vs. 13% of overall casual gamers).

Asked to choose the single most frequent time for playing casual games, 26% of survey respondents with physical disabilities, and 29% of those with mental disabilities, indicated “late at night, before bed,” compared with just 11% of those with developmental/learning disabilities. The latter group indicated weekends (30%) was the time they played most often. This is presumed to be due to the large number of children in the category.

Playing Preferences

Almost half (44%) of all disabled gamers indicated that they had recommended playing casual games to others with significant disabilities, and more than a tenth of respondents (11%) said that a “physician, psychiatrist, physical therapist or other medical professional had prescribed or recommended playing casual games as part of the treatment” for their disability.

As for solitary versus companion game-play, 44% of disabled gamers said they played casual games with other people at least part of the time. Of those, more than one in four (28%) said they played casual games with other disabled individuals. Among respondents with developmental/learning disabilities specifically, 60% said they played casual games with other people.

Asked to pick their favorite categories of casual games, disabled gamers’ choices closely mirrored those of non-disabled players, with “puzzle” (84%), “word and trivia” (61%) and “arcade” (59%) being the three most-cited genres. “Card” (54%) and “hidden object” (51%) games rounded out the top five categories among disabled gamers.

Casual vs. Hardcore

Only 26% of disabled casual gamers said they also play traditional, “hardcore” videogames; among those respondents with physical disabilities specifically, that figure dropped to 18%.

Among disabled gamers who also play hardcore games, 25% said they played hardcore games on a daily basis – compared with 64% who play casual games daily.

About the survey: This international research was conducted by Information Solutions Groupfor PopCap Games. These results are based on online surveys completed by 2,728 respondents randomly selected between April 2 and April 17, 2008. Survey subjects were presented with exhaustive lists of various types of disabilities by category in order to assist in accurately categorizing themselves. For the purpose of this survey, a disabled person is defined as one who has a significant medical condition or a physical, mental, developmental or learning impairment/disability. This includes, but is not limited to, medical conditions that affect mobility, vision, hearing and learning. It also includes chronic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome; mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety; and developmental disabilities, such as ADD/ADHD (recently re-diagnosed as AD/HD – Predominantly Inattentive Type), dyslexia and autism.

Over three quarters of the more than 2,700 disabled consumers who participated in the study described their disabilities as “moderate” or “severe.”

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