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I recently completed a study at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa finding that gamers’ activities and preferences within games could be linked to addiction. The study looked at players within massively multiplayer online games, for instance Blizzard’s World of Warcraft or Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XI.
The study, which examined in-game behaviors on a number of levels, found that playing with real life friends, side activities like exploration or taking pictures, and membership to social guilds may be related to less harmful play. On the other hand, stealing from or otherwise manipulating players, along with membership to more goal-oriented “hardcore” raid guilds may be related to addiction. Player versus player activity was related to both less damaging and addictive behaviors on different levels of data analysis. While these relationships are present, it is not known whether games are actually the cause of this behavior, or if these are simply behaviors that already addicted players seek out.
Based on these relationships, the study suggested that the process of becoming addicted is likely very complex. It is suggested that more research connecting in-game activities and addiction is needed, and that determining whether games are to blame will most likely require a longitudinal study, looking at a group of gamers over a length of time. It is also noted that studying this link between gameplay and addiction could open doors for addicts generally. From the study:
“There are a million little pieces working together in these games. Understanding this process not only holds the potential for helping the people with real gaming problems. Research within prototypical game worlds may have real implications for helping people with other kinds of non-game addictions.”
There were also a number of suggestions on improving the ways in which future studies of videogames collect their data. After making the attempt at using one new method for getting data on gamers, the study made a number of observations on the technical and ethical limitations for data collection in videogame studies.
It is also noted that despite a lack of good information on what “addiction” could actually mean, gamers and advertisers use the term far too much. Popularizing the word “addiction” as a mark of quality hurts not only players, but also sales. Players already widely confuse good games with harmful overuse. From chapter one of the study:
“The sustained misuse of perceptions and stereotypes on the part of marketers will likely have an increasingly devastating impact on game players that do have problems. Understanding the intersect between addiction and videogames is a necessary precursor toward first, understanding what to regard as addiction, and second, search for clues as to how we might begin to help the people whose play is having a clearly negative affect on their lives.”
What follows are select extracts from this thesis. At the end of this article, you may download the thesis in its entirety, in PDF format, which also includes details of the works cited in the following pages.