The first ever 'virtual census' of the human characters used in US video games has shown that males, adults and white people are over-represented in such games.
But females, black people, children and the elderly are under-represented.
Dmitri Williams of the University of Southern California-Los Angeles (UCLA), who carried out the study with colleagues at Indiana University, Ohio University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, says that the mismatch between real-world and videogame populations could be excluding some groups of potential players from games.
The researchers ran a census on the top 150 games sold on nine popular video-gaming platforms, including the Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation, PS2, Nintendo GameCube, PSP, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and the PC.
They recruited seasoned gamers to play each game for 30 minutes.
A video of the sessions was analyzed, and demographics of each character appearing on screen recorded. The researcher then weighted the results in proportion to each game's sales.
They observed that characters in a game selling 2 million copies counted for twice as many character stereotype impressions as those in a game selling 1 million.
Upon comparing the results with data from the 2000 US census, Williams and his colleagues observed that male characters were "vastly more likely to appear" in games than females.
According to the researchers, they made up 85 per cent of characters, compared to 51 per cent of the real population.
Compared to the real population, African Americans were under-represented by 13 per cent and Hispanic/Latino people by 78 per cent. Asians were over-represented by 25 per cent and white people by 7 per cent.
Most of the games analyzed were produced in the US, though the researchers say they didn't take the country of production into account in their analysis.
"Games produced in Asia could account for some of the over-representation," New Scientist quoted Williams as saying.
He, however, added that it was not known whether Asian developers were biased in favor of using Asian characters.
Williams believes that the demographic disparity between video-game characters and the real population may have practical consequences.
"For developers this would be a missed opportunity. For players it is a potential source of identity-based problems," he says.
According to him, unless the population of games becomes more like that of the real world, the industry will struggle to attract customers from groups such as black, female or elderly people, who today are under-represented among both characters and players.
A report on the study has been published in the journal New Media and Society.