Editor’s note: John Gaudiosi covers the videogame industry for Local Tech Wire and writes the Gaming Guru blog for WRAL.com.

CARY, N.C. — A new survey from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication proves a fact that I’ve known from years of interviewing gamers and game creators:

  • Not everyone who plays massively-multiplayer online (MMO) games like Sony Online Entertainment’s EverQuest II is a nerd.
  • The average age of the 7,000 players surveyed was 31.
  • Since gaming is something people tend to stick with, the survey found that there were more MMO gamers in their 30s than in their 20s.
  • And playing time increased with age.

Other points:

Having attended several EverQuest FanFaires in the past – annual gatherings of EverQuest fans from around the globe – I can tell you that it’s not just a bunch of guys gaming. I even attended a live/virtual wedding at last year’s Las Vegas event.

The new survey found that women made up 20 percent of EverQuest gamers and that they logged more time than their male counterparts playing.

Data provided by Sony Online Entertainment, which runs the game, showed that players spent a large amount of time in-game: 26 hours per week on average.

While there are always going to be overweight gamers – especially since our entire society is overweight, the survey found that MMO gamers vigorously exercised once or twice a week. They’re still slightly overweight, on average, but about 10 percent leaner than the average American. Even assuming a modest amount of under-reporting, the survey suggests that serious gamers resemble the general population in overall fitness.

The fitness data point to an intriguing difference between television and online game experiences. The researchers cited studies showing that time spent watching television is related to poor health outcomes and fewer servings of fruits and vegetables. But EverQuest II players do not appear to fit this profile.

There were some negative effects to gaming, athough researchers said MMO games could be used by gamers as a form of therapy. Survey respondents were roughly 50 percent more likely to have had a depression diagnosis than the population at large. The rate of substance addiction was about 20 percent higher than normal. On the other hand, players reported slightly lower levels of anxiety than the general population.

As an incentive to participate in this survey, every gamer was given a free and exclusive in-game item that can be used in EverQuest II. Given the fact that many gamers actually buy virtual items (called gold mining), this incentive worked wonders.