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Research / Discovery

CSU study finds positive aspects of video games

September 19, 2011
by Paul Miller

Are you an Alliance or Horde race? A death knight, druid, or paladin? If you know what those terms mean, then you're one of 11 million people who play World of Warcraft, or WoW, a popular online game and the subject of studies by Jeffrey Snodgrass, associate professor of anthropology at CSU.

Jeffrey Snodgrass, associate professor of anthropology.Rewards of online games

With his research team, Snodgrass is continuing to examine the effects video games have on players’ lives, including their self-reported levels of stress, life satisfaction, and happiness.

Although some enthusiasts can become so involved in games that offline existence becomes secondary, Snodgrass has found that online games also can be remarkably rewarding and relaxing.

“I was surprised when we found out how deeply meaningful and important this game can be to players,” Snodgrass says. “Going into the research, I thought, ‘Well, it’s only a game, a pastime, a hobby.’ But the achievements some people experience are incredibly important.”

The complex and highly interactive nature of these massively multiplayer online games, or MMOs, can lead players to feel like they’re part of a vivid and compelling alternate universe separate from the outside world.

Like a great chess match

Many players reported that WoW serves as a stress or tension reliever, Snodgrass says, and players who absorbed more deeply reported more stress relief.

“The idea is that if you lose yourself, you escape,” Snodgrass says. “So it’s deeply relaxing, what some gamers describe as akin to meditation, or positively challenging and stimulating like a great chess match where you’re actually one of the pieces. It’s important to note that the escape must be controlled and temporary to be positive so that it leads to rejuvenation rather than simple problem avoidance, which in the end only increases stress.”

In reviewing the research, team member Jesse Fagan (’07, M.A. ’11) found a “nugget of surprise” regarding the way unemployment impacted the gamer’s experience.

“I consistently recommend to unemployed people that they stay away from this game,” Fagan says. “It provides an artificial sense of accomplishment that may prevent them from achievement in the real world. This is consistent with our finding that negative feelings of real-world success lead to a higher degree of addiction to the game.”

Striking a balanced look

Although many video game studies focus on the negative and addictive aspects of game play, Snodgrass hopes his study will show that addiction is only one side, albeit an important one, of video game usage. “We want to be careful to present a balanced portrait of online gaming,” Snodgrass says.

During the study, team member Francois Dengah (’04, M.A. ’08) met a player who considered WoW a safe place to explore an alternative identity. “I met a woman – or rather a night-elf character – who said she was battling muscular dystrophy, and virtual worlds such as WoW and Second Life were the only way that she could travel to new places and interact with new and interesting people. WoW gave her an able-bodied identity to explore.”

Other members of Snodgrass’ research team include sociology Associate Professor Michael Lacy and Associate Professor David Most from the School of Education.