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How Do Typical Gamers Play Games? (VG Series Part 10/10)

2010 November 19

Neo-Academic coverage of the Journal of General Psychology special issue on the psychology of video games:

ResearchBlogging.orgThere are few topics so hotly debated on the Internet as the value of video games. Are they the next generation’s artistic advance, as film was for the last, or are they a blight that makes children overly aggressive and dangerous? In this 10-part series, I’m reviewing a recent special issue of the Journal of General Psychology on video games. For more background information, see the first post in the series.

The final two articles in this special issue deal with video gaming in the context of normal development.  First, Barnett and Coulson[1] discuss motivations behind the playing of massively multiplayer online games [MMOG].  MMOGs, loosely defined, are any game in which a large number of players can interact with each other in real time.  The most popular MMOG currently is World of Warcraft.

Barnett and Coulson devote a great deal of space to correcting common misconceptions about online gamers: gender differences are smaller than many believe (perhaps an 80/20 split men-to-women, with adult women more common than adolescent women), people of all ages play (a range of 12 to 83 is reported), gamers are of typical health for the populations they are drawn from, and gamers often play MMOGs to be more social.

They even go so far as to suggest that the gamer stereotype (white, male, mid-20s, a loner in poor health) is outdated.  While people of this description are perhaps likely to be gamers, not all gamers are likely to fit the stereotype.

They continue by discussing how online avatars are created, which I found fascinating.  Because MMO environments are for the most part anonymous, players have a great deal of freedom to design how they appear in-game.  They can control race, sex, body shape, weight, clothing, hair style, etc. – virtually every aspect of appearance other than bipedal functioning (and some MMOGs even give control over this as well!).  Choice of character class (e.g. fighter, ranger, medic, etc.) is also customizable.  So why do people choose the avatars they do?

There are many interesting tidbits here, but one that I found most interesting was this:

Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, and Moore (2006) found that male players who chose healing roles, or other classes that wore light armor, were more likely to “gender-bend” (p. 296) and play female characters than to choose a male combat character who wore heavier, bulkier armour.

It’s almost as if men wanting to take on traditional “female” roles prefer to be represented as women.  The underlying reason for this is not explained.  Even more interestingly, female players make the same distinction, but cited that they did so because they “were viewed as positive character types that signify the rejection of violence.”

They even found some evidence that MMOGs teach their players a bit – one high school student had this to say:

A school science test included what two substances make bronze: copper and tin. Learning blacksmithing in WoW taught me this. My friend and I play the game and were the only two in the class to get the answer right.

Overall, I found this article a refreshingly clear treatment of MMOGs and the various areas of study that have tapped onto this domain.  Unlike some of the articles in this issue, I don’t think these authors did much overreaching – they described the research as it existed and pointed out what else was needed clearly and precisely.

The final issue by Olson[2] discusses the play of video games in general in the context of normal development.  Olson says right in the abstract something that I wish were true but is probability a bit optimistic:

The debate has moved from whether children should play video games to how to maximize potential benefits and to identify and minimize potential harms.

Well… maybe.

Olson begins by discussing core motivations for video gaming by children as determined from a sample of 1137 7th and 8th graders previously published in a prior article.  Here are the top 10 reasons, from most motivating to least:

  1. Fun
  2. Exciting
  3. Alleviates Boredom
  4. Challenging
  5. Competition
  6. Relaxing
  7. No Other Option (presumably for entertainment)
  8. Enjoyment of Guns/Weapons
  9. World Creating
  10. Learning

There’s some overlap there, but it does at least paint an interesting picture of child motivations – and is certainly more complex than “fun” alone, which I believe is a common stereotype  by adults about video game play by children.

Again, I find this article to be an interesting examination of video gaming in the context of typical gamers, and I recommend it if you’d like an overview in this domain.

This concludes my 10-part series on video game research. It took 2 months (!!!), but I certainly learned a great deal about current psychological research in video games. My backlog of articles to review most specifically in technology-enhanced training and selection is pretty big, so expect a return to that next week.

  1. Barnett, J., & Coulson, M. (2010). Virtually real: A psychological perspective on massively multiplayer online games. Review of General Psychology, 14 (2), 167-179 DOI: 10.1037/a0019442 []
  2. Olson, C. (2010). Children’s motivations for video game play in the context of normal development. Review of General Psychology, 14 (2), 180-187 DOI: 10.1037/a0018984 []
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  1. April 25, 2012

    Thanks for posting this. It is helping me with my research paper on how video games can be positive for kids.

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