It's probably significant that Sabrina Neu originally wanted to look into substance abuse issues among students. "But that's something that's been done quite a bit," says Neu, who ended up looking into the effects of massive multiplayer online video gaming for her doctoral thesis at University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs -- and what she found out, if not exactly shocking, is still some pretty interesting stuff.
MMOs, Neu notes, "really take things to a whole different level than the traditional video game, where you're just kind of interfacing with the software on your computer." Essentially, you become immersed in a whole universe, populated by actual humans (well, their avatars, anyway) and relatively limitless in boundary. "In a lot of the studies out there," Neu continues, "you'll see people playing these games 40, 50, even 60 hours a week."
What Neu wanted to find out was a couple of things: One, she wanted to find out what kinds of personality traits would predict excessive online gaming. Neu asked the 200 some graduate and undergraduate students she surveyed (all of whom were respondents to an email query sent to their student email accounts) questions relating to boredom and social anxiety, for example, and then correlated that data with how many hours respondents said they gamed per week. "What I found was that the two variables that correlated with the amount of hours played," says Neu. "Proneness to boredom and being male. Being male was actually the strongest predictor."
Nevertheless, Neu observes that females are significantly more likely to play MMOs than they are to play traditional video games, owing, she speculates, to a couple of different factors: "There are more opportunities for altruism, teamwork, cooperation, things like that. There's a more social aspect to MMOs, which might be more appealing to female gamers," she says. About 38 percent of Neu's gamers were female.
Neu also wanted to find out what kind of correlation there might be between hours spent per week gaming and negative life consequences -- consequences like loss of sleep, missing meals, academic interference and personal relationships suffering.
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"The relationship was positive," she says. "So as the hours played increased, the amount of consequences would move in a similar direction."
The surprising thing, she says, is that, relative to the amount of hours gamers spend gaming suggested by other studies, her gamers' game-time average was fairly low, about 11 to 20 hours per week. "But there were still consequences," she points out.
What Neu doesn't know is at what point gaming starts to accrue consequences, at what level of hours spent gaming do you start to be at risk. Her numbers, though, suggest that it might be lower than you might assume.