Joystiq interviews gay gamer survey's creator Jason Rockwood

Six months after the data for the "Gaymer Survey" was expected, we catch up with Jason Rockwood to find out what took so long, what he hopes the data is used for and what can various groups take away from the survey?

What's the most surprising thing to you about the survey?
The biggest surprise about the survey was the interest from the audience. I had over 10,000 people from over 35 countries take this survey -- in like a week! It was so much of an overwhelming response. That was the biggest surprise.

What took so long for the results to be released? This was expected to be finished last fall, correct?

It took a long time because I decided that my applications to graduate school would be strengthened by having brought the project to some level of completion, because of that, I was working on the project mostly independently, outside the context of the academic setting, even though I was under the supervision and association of UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). So, it took a long time because I was working on this alone. Most researchers doing this kind of work are in a PhD. program and have funding of some kind. I had neither.

So, what do you hope happens with the data?
I hope it sparks continued conversation between and among gamers and developers on the topic of gay and bi people in gaming. I hope that it forms a foundation for exploration in the academic community on the topics of gaming motivation and sexuality, and I hope more games end up being produced for a gay audience.

Are you going to continue down this path studying gamers?
Ideally yes. I'm waiting to hear back from graduate schools over the next two months if i am admitted, I will be able to focus on this topic in more detail.

What do you hope to study in grad school?
The programs I'm applying to are master's programs in media studies. My hope is that these programs will give me a broader context for which to focus on my video game research in a doctoral program. I'm interested in studying emerging media and their social impacts. In this case, gay people being the social and video games being the emerging media.

Have the schools you applied to found interest in your study?
They are not allowed to comment while applications are pending.

You went into this making a gay gamer survey, do you feel like that's what you walked away with, or was it something different?
It is different. The most surprising thing about the results, for me, was the distribution of respondents across the sexual orientation question. There was a perfectly symmetrical, U shaped curve across the 7 choices. I made a "gaymer" survey, but what I found is that out of 10,000 gamers, there is a very diverse range of sexual orientations. The gay players who want to be called "gaymers" are a very small minority. The larger population didn't really respond well to the gaymer label and I understand why, because there were so many different types of sexual orientations present.

So, the answers you received in the survey are actually from this entire spectrum of sexualities?
Yes! That's what was so exciting. I came away from this with a much richer appreciation for the diversity of sexual orientations in the gaming community. I'm interested in doing a follow-up survey that is not labeled "gaymer" to see if I get the same distribution of sexual orientations in the larger population.

So, the study became more of a general gamer sexuality survey instead of a "gaymer" survey?
In a way, yes. As I tried to seek out the "gaymers," I ended up finding a huge population of bisexuals! Approximately 45 percent of respondents were some degree of bisexual. That's a sizable population. And so, yes, in a way, I realized that the "gaymer" label should just be applied to the 23 percent of respondents that are purely homosexual -- only 1 out of 5 people were positive about the term gaymer. And maybe not even that 23 percent, because only 20 percent were favorable [to the term]. I'd like to look deeper at the sexual orientation break down of those who were positive about "gaymer" label. I only looked at who was negative about it

Do you feel that you showed that gay gamers do exist though, which was one of the original things you had to show existed?
Absolutely! What I found is that because there are such a wide range of sexual orientations present, 45 percent bisexual to some degree ... it shows me that by just including gay options in content, [developers and publishers] will be reaching a very wide population that is being under served. So, in just putting it out there, not just for the gays, but for everyone, I think this is important ... I feel this met my original goals of showing that there is a gay and bisexual population that is potentially sizable. Showing that sexual orientation influences content decisions.

From an academic standpoint, what question do you think gave the most important answer?
I have to keep coming back to the idea that the most amazing thing about this project was that it demonstrated the diversity of the gaming audience, and that while it met the original goals of examining the gaymer population, it went far beyond that. The diversity of gamers is amazing, and in that regard, i think that question thirty-one, asking about sexual orientation, is the most important question, because it demonstrates the diversity of the gaming audience and it is the question that is the lens through which we can view the rest of the survey answers. It's powerful by itself, but even more powerful when used in conjunction with other questions.

From a business standpoint?
The most powerful questions from a business standpoint are the questions about content. I want to do further analysis on the desired content questions, because that's what the developers need to know. From an academic point, it's about motivations. From a biz perspective it's about content. The survey covered both.

How about from a gamer standpoint?
The fact that this survey shows that whoever you are, you are not alone.

What do you think a developers take home message should be from reviewing the survey?
Gamers want options to choose the sex and sexual orientation of their avatars.

Now, this isn't the "full" survey, what parts were removed when you released this information?
Obscure questions that are mostly important for academic purposes.

What do you think people will pick is the problem with this survey?
The design. I'm a noob. *laughs* The biggest critiques from the feedback section were, "The design sucks, you noob, u suck." The other was that they said, "I wish you would have given the option to say I don't care ... by forcing people to take a stand, you are making incorrect results." That was a big -- HUGE -- philosophical dilemma in designing this survey, because I was torn between giving them the "I don't care option" or "The choose an option one way or the other" option. I chose to force them to reply, because the "I don't care" option very often means "I don't want to think about this and so i could be critiqued for that as well. But at the same time
I also think that as a whole gamers don't give a damn about a lot of this stuff. They just want to be able to game. They go into these worlds to escape labels -- not to find more of them.

So, this industry is based on sequels, now that you've opened the door, when can we expect a sequel?
I'm hoping that the comments section of my website, JasonRockwood.com, will provide a small space for people to leave their thoughts on the results and design. I'd like to see how developers and academics respond to this. I'd like to have conversations about what I've spent the last year of my life working on. After listening for a bit, I'll put something new together.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.