In our discussions of violence associated with video game play, we’ve frequently noted that there appear to be different effects depending on the type of video game. Some games are more violent than others, and some games reward violence while others discourage it. All this has an impact in terms of real-world behavior and attitudes. Some games have positive effects.
One type of game — one of the most popular types, in fact — hasn’t been studied nearly as much as the traditional arcade-style game: massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. One of the studies of this type of game seemed to find that players weren’t more aggressive because the games foster cooperation between players.
But we’ve also heard — and seen, with Jim’s game-play, that MMORPGs like World of Warcraft can be more engaging and distracting than other games, sucking away hours and hours in seemingly endless online quests. Even if it turns out these games don’t promote violent behavior, is it possible that they have other detrimental effects?
Joshua Smyth recruited 100 college students to play one of four randomly-assigned video games free for a month. They played the games on their own time, in a campus “game laboratory” (or in an arcade for the arcade group). The only requirement was that they play the game for at least an hour a week. The arcade group could play any of the games in the arcade; one group played Gauntlet: Dark Legacy on a PlayStation 2; one group played Diablo II on a computer, and the final group played the MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot. So did the type of game had any impact on how much the games were played? You bet it did — here are the results:
The MMORPG group spent significantly more time playing Dark Age of Camelot in the final week of play than any of the other groups spent playing their games — an average of 14.4 hours! Remember, these groups were randomly assigned, and there was no difference in game-playing time among groups at the start of the study. But even if the students spent more time with the MMORPG, that doesn’t mean they’re addicted to it. Were other aspects of their lives affected by this increase in game-playing? Yes, they were. Take a look at this graph:
Sleep quality was significantly worse in the MMORPG group than the other groups, and the participants said the game interfered with their academics (although their actual academic performance didn’t suffer compared to the other groups). Yet the MMORPG group was significantly more likely than the other groups to say they planned to continue playing the game after the study was complete.
So is this behavior addictive? Smyth doesn’t offer an assessment, but the fact that the MMORPG appears to be negatively impacting several areas of these students’ lives — and that they continue to play on despite this — suggest it might be. But once again, we must be careful when generalizing results such as this. Just one MMORPG was tested, so we can’t say whether these results apply to other games. What’s more, the students clearly were getting some benefits from the game, building an online social network that was valuable to them. Despite these caveats, to me it’s surprising that such dramatic results occurred even when groups were randomly assigned to the games. Maybe nearly anyone could get “hooked.” Which is why I’m not especially interested in getting started.
Smyth, J.M. (2007). Beyond Self-Selection in Video Game Play: An Experimental Examination of the Consequences of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Play. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(5), 717-721. DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2007.9963