Tarred as an unhealthy subculture, “gamers” incites a number of stereotypical images.

In popular media, television shows such as the Big Bang Theory and South Park depict gaming as an activity for socially inept nerds who are desensitized to the world around them. As a result of this media portrayal, many parents are fretting about their children’s attraction to gaming, imagining that they might grow up devoid of social skills and harboring warped senses of reality.

But according to the ESA Computer and video games industry report for 2015, 42 percent of Americans are gamers and 4-out-of-5 U.S. households have a gaming console. And according to the stats, the average gamer is 35 years old, and nearly as many women play as men. Why are the stereotypes so different from reality? Here, I am going to debunk the most common stereotypes about gamers and get to the bottom of where some of these stereotypes came from.

Gamers are all nerds

Back in the mid-1970s, when gaming was inaccessible and extremely hard to set up, you needed to be an early adopter of technology to participate in the earliest form of games (think text-based and board games). Gaming was by no means as easy to get into as now, and for that reason, gaming fanatics were probably the same people who were interested in computers, coding, and so on.

Nowadays, gaming culture is mainstream. With more than a billion people playing games regularly, gamers have moved far beyond the realm of nerds.

Gamers don’t know how to socialize

Like most stereotypes, what people believe about a particular group is totally detached from the truth and partly based on representations in movies and popular culture. Not all French people wear berets and eat croissants every day; likewise, not all gamers are weird-o loners. Many people enjoy gaming as a shared activity. The recent ESA gaming report showed that 54 percent of frequent gamers feel their hobby helps them to connect with friends, and 45 percent use gaming as a way to spend time with their family.

That gamers interact with one another isn’t unusual. Specific hobbies have their own dedicated social networks. In the same way as cycling enthusiasts like to keep up with news about their favorite sports stars, but might not be comfortable sharing this on normal social media, gamers prefer dedicated channels to share gaming content such as in-game achievements, game stats and other relevant news and media.

Gamers are all teenage boys   

When people think of gaming, they think of teenage boys, yet the ESA report reveals that there are actually more women over the age of 18 (33 percent) than men under the age of 18 (15 percent) who play games.

The last five years has seen the explosion of mobile gaming, which is set to overtake revenue from console-based gaming in 2015. It’s also opened gaming to a wider audience. According to the ESA report, 44 percent of gamers, and this continues to increase.

The gender split is pretty equal no matter where you look — 55 percent women on mobile. There aren’t any glaring differences between preferences in game types either. Contrary to the results, a cultural issue is at hand. In the same way that parents don’t tend to buy their daughters toy guns and skateboards, the same goes for games consoles. It’s been shown that women and men have similar tastes when it comes to games.

One area in which women are vastly underrepresented is in game development and design, which unfortunately has not shaken its image of a “boys club.”

According to the Guardian, the number of women working in the game industry remains shockingly low: only 12 percent of game designers and 3 percent of all programmers are women. The female gaming community raised its eyebrows back in 2013 when a Sony Conference for the release of the PS4 featured zero women, highlighting the gender inequality that remains in the gaming industry.

Gaming affects young people and teenagers in a negative way

Research by the University of Rochester has proven that video game players develop heightened sensitivity to what is going on around them, along with improvements to their multitasking skills, driving ability and overall navigation skills. Gaming also helps young minds develop decision-making skills based on consequences and rewards, allowing developing minds to think strategically.

Just like everything else though, addictions must be managed. Any habit that reaches a state of obsession must be overcome, and the same applies for gaming — there’s no denying that.

Creating a more positive image for gamers

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide play games, and the figures are growing every day. The industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world — while providing entertainment for nearly 2 billion people globally. The results of gaming are all around us. If it weren’t for video game enthusiasts and the commercial need to keep them happy with ever-improving graphics requiring ever-higher processor speeds in new consoles, advanced computer graphics would still be found only in the high-priced computers in the business and science worlds. The recent ESA report shows us that gaming has moved well out of the realms of a niche pastime into the mainstream, and as a result, stereotypes about gamers have been blown out the water.

Riad Chikhani is the cofounder and CEO of Gamurs, an “all-in-one” social network made by gamers for gamers.