Who spends the most time gaming? It’s not Gen Z

A survey by ExpressVPN explores gaming obsession across generations and the potential reasons people in their 30s are more hooked than younger players.
Privacy news
10 mins
  • Survey by ExpressVPN finds that Millennials spend more time gaming than Gen Z
  • Over 58% of gamers say they continue to play despite possible negative consequences
  • Men are more emotionally invested in playing video games than women, using them to connect with friends
  • Study finds that 79% of gamers play retro games like Super Mario Bros. and Pac-Man
  • Members of the professional e-sports team Ninjas in Pyjamas comment on our findings

The world of gaming has come a long way since the days of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Super Mario Bros. Today, with high-definition graphics and online multiplayer capabilities, gaming has become more immersive and engaging than ever before. 

However, with this increased immersion comes the potential for addiction—and it’s not just children and teenagers who are at risk.

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So, what is the average gamer’s age? A new survey conducted by ExpressVPN revealed that Millennial gamers (people currently in their late 20s to early 40s) are more dedicated to gaming than their Gen Z counterparts (teenagers to early 20-somethings). 

This may come as a surprise to some, as young people seem to be constantly playing games. 

The study, which includes responses from 1,000 professed gamers in the U.S. and 1,000 in the UK, shows that Millennials are more likely to play video games on a regular basis and for longer periods of time. They also tend to have a stronger emotional connection to gaming, with many citing it as a form of stress relief and social connection. 

We unpack these findings below, and ask professional Counter Strike: Global Offensive players from the globally recognized e-sports team, Ninjas in Pyjamas, to weigh in.

Young adults and teens spend less time gaming than older players

How do you picture the average gamer? If the image of a teenager who plays video games all day and night while talking trash to other players comes to mind, then you may be a bit off from the truth. 

Our study shows that gamers in their 30s and 40s are more likely to play video games daily, with 68% of them admitting to doing so. By contrast, 58% of gamers in their 20s play video games every day. 

More Millennials than Gen Z individuals admitted to spending a whole day gaming each week. Surprisingly, even though gamers in our oldest age group surveyed—46 to 55—are less likely than Millennials to play games daily, more of them admit to spending more than 24 hours playing video games in a single session.

For the biggest gamers, going pro is a reality—all it takes is a lot of practice. Just ask Astra (real name Mayline-Joy Champliaud), a member of Ninjas in Pyjamas, who says professionals generally have 6,000 hours of play time behind them. So, someone who spends 24 hours gaming each week could essentially become a pro in 4.8 years.

Gen Z also said that they are less likely to play video games at night—a trait more common among older players. While this is probably due to Millenials’ daytime work obligations pushing their hobbies to after hours, it is still surprising that 59% say they continue to game even when they know doing so can disrupt their sleep or interfere with their other responsibilities.  

Why are Millennials the biggest gamers? We can conjecture: They grew up with the gaming industry, watching it evolve from pixelated, 8-bit worlds to lush, realistic environments. For a lot of ’80s and early-’90s babies, video games are a way for them to unwind, connect with friends, and even make new ones. By contrast, Gen Z has grown up with mobile devices in their pockets, never knowing a world without internet access. For them, gaming could just be a way to pass the time and escape reality for a while. 

Millennials would also have more disposable income to spend on their favorite form of entertainment than their younger counterparts who are still likely in school or just starting their careers. In fact, a third of Millennials we spoke to say that they’re ready to spend 50 to 100 USD on a single in-game purchase—with almost one in five of those surveyed having no issue forking out more than 100 USD.

If you’re surprised by our findings, you’re not alone—members of Ninjas in Pyjamas were, too. “I feel like gaming is definitely a mainstream thing for younger kids because it’s so much easier for them to play them,” says Aleksib (real name Aleksi Virolainen), a professional Counter Strike: Global Offensive player for the e-sports group. “I’m related to kids who are four years old who already play games on an iPad—something I didn’t do when I was their age because I never had access.”

Some gamers admit they feel addicted

Most video games are designed with clear goals that players need to achieve to progress in their mission. This sense of accomplishment leads to a sudden release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This dopamine release subsequently urges players to keep trying to tackle new challenges. Consequently, players start spending more time playing video games, often losing control over their gaming habits. 

When asked, more than one in five respondents stated they would like to spend less time playing video games, while 5% of Millennials said they feel addicted to gaming compared with 3% of Gen Z. 

One of the most common signs of gaming addiction is the inability to focus on other activities, and thinking about video games even when you’re not playing them. Surprisingly, almost 30% of players admitted that they think about video games all the time, with nearly half of them finding everything else boring compared with video games. 

I’ve been addicted to games, and I’m still addicted to games. I feel like there should always be a balance though, if you need to try to tone down [your gaming].

— Aleksib, pro Counter Strike: Global Offensive player

Not being able to find enjoyment outside of the gaming world can lead to obsessing over video games and neglecting essential everyday activities like eating, engaging in social interactions, sleeping, and working. Worryingly, more than half of our respondents confessed that they often continue to play video games even though they know it can negatively impact their daily lives.

“It can be very addictive, especially if you don’t have other hobbies, such as sports or music,” says Astra. “I think that being addicted is a big word though, and I don’t think that it’s that many people that are addicted to it.”

Her teammate Aleksib adds that it’s challenging not to become addicted to something you feel so passionately about.

“I’ve been addicted to games, and I’m still addicted to games,” he tells us. “I feel like there should always be a balance though, if you need to try to tone down [your gaming]. By taking breaks to rather focus on something healthier like taking walks and stretching your body can significantly reduce the risk of losing control over your gaming activities.”

Men are more emotionally invested in gaming than women

Society has overcome the stereotypical notion that gamers are exclusively men—with game developers catering to a more diverse audience than ever before. However, there is still a marked difference in how women and men perceive video games and the significance it holds in their lives. 

Even though they already spend less time gaming than men, the majority of our female respondents admit they would like to further reduce the time they spend playing video games.  They also said that they feel more guilty about spending their free time playing video games than men.

Conversely, our study shows that men often play video games to connect with their friends and meet new people. Men are also more likely to pursue a career in the gaming industry compared with women, who said they’re more likely to play video games to unwind and entertain themselves.

Emotionally connecting with fictional characters is as old as storytelling itself. But with video games, the gamer embodies the character, controlling their actions. Video game storylines are also frequently written with great emotional depth, with full and complex character development.

But there is a clear gender divide when it comes to time and emotional investment. Among our male respondents, 72% reported that they lost interest in the hobbies that they used to enjoy due to gaming, compared with 49% of women. Similarly, more men reported feelings of sadness, boredom, and anxiousness when they were unable to play their favorite games. 


The dominance of shooter games 

While more than half of our respondents said they enjoy both single and multi-player video games, 40% of women said they would rather opt for single-player games given the choice. This jibes with the finding that male gamers are more likely to use games to connect with friends than female gamers.

Our study also showed that men enjoy action-packed games more, with their two favorites being first-person shooter game Call of Duty and football-focused FIFA. Interestingly, Call of Duty is also the most popular choice of game for women. This is followed by The Sims, a social simulation game that allows players to control the actions and interactions of their characters, as well as manage their careers, relationships, and other aspects of their lives.

The most popular games among men:

  1. Call of duty – 71%
  2. FIFA – 56%
  3. God of war – 48%

The most popular games among women:

  1. Call of duty  – 46%
  2. The Sims – 39%
  3. Minecraft – 33%

Retro gaming: What’s old is in 

Even though game developers invest a crazy amount of time and effort into enhancing gaming experiences, creating graphics that look almost real, sometimes all gamers want is to get back to the simplicity of the first games they ever played. 

Retro gaming, the practice of playing and collecting older video games, is a popular trend that’s gained traction recently, spurring gaming companies to revive old games and even re-release old consoles and devices.   

According to our study, 79% of respondents play retro games. While this isn’t surprising for older gamers who grew up playing these types of games, it’s interesting to see that Gen Z gamers are also enjoying games from the ’80s and ’90s.

Some of the reasons individuals may choose to play retro games over new releases are the simpler storylines. Retro releases are also considered more original and innovative. However, 38% of respondents noted nostalgia as their primary reason for retro gaming—which, again, ties into why older generations tend to be more avid gamers than their younger counterparts. 

While Super Mario Bros. is the most popular retro game choice among our respondents, other classics like Pac-Man, Tetris, and Mario Kart follow closely behind. 


Phones are the No. 1 gaming devices

Smartphones are powerful enough for us to play games unencumbered. In fact, 70% of respondents reported that their preferred gaming device is their mobile phone. However, that’s not to say PCs and consoles have faded into obsolescence for gaming. 

It makes sense because the phone is a device we use 24/7 in our daily lives for everything. Buying extra consoles or even a PC costs much more. The phone in a sense is kind of all-in-one (gaming, calling, watching, etc).

— Astra, pro Counter Strike: Global Offensive player

Ninjas in Pyjamas agree that the future of mobile gaming is a bright one considering that phones have become an indispensable part of our lives.

“It makes sense because the phone is a device we use 24/7 in our daily lives for everything,” says Astra. “Buying extra consoles or even a PC costs much more. The phone in a sense is kind of all-in-one (gaming, calling, watching, etc).”

Aleksib says he believes that there will be a significant surge in the development of new mobile games, and that games originally created for PCs and gaming consoles will become frequently more available on mobile platforms. “I’ve already seen a few mobile LAN tournaments pop up that are adapted from the same areas where I’ve competed,” he says. “Mobile games are just getting bigger and bigger.”

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