Time for another Research Review!
Every month, I will select a recently published research article in the field of game studies and provide an in-depth review. After taking into account the motivations, methods, and analyses, we will explore the takeaways from this work and break down how it can help us better understand the uses and effects of video games on its players.
This month, I’ll be exploring “Hostility is Associated with Self Reported Cognitive and Social Benefits Across Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games” by Smith and colleagues.
The article opens by discussing how MMORPGs have been historically linked with patterns of play that are harmful to ones physical and mental health including elevated anxiety and depressive symptoms, poor coping skills, and increased impulsivity. On the author hand, they also note that “hazardous” play (Which they use analogously with ‘gaming addiction’) is often associated with difficult social experiences such as loneliness, low self-esteem, and hostile attitudes towards others.
Throughout the article they focus specifically on this link with hostility, noting that in many different samples hostility has been associated with problematic internet use and hazardous (or addicted) MMORPG play.
The authors argue that these associations may reflect how online spaces offer opportunities to express hostility but may also indicate howhostile individuals are more likely to play MMORPGs as an escape/avoidance strategy. The authors say,
“From this perspective, MMORPG play could be operating as a coping mechanism that then promotes gaming activities to the point of addiction. Alternatively, MMORPG play may offer accessible and practical ways for individuals to compensate for negative real-world challenges – for example, lack of social stimulation – that, while producing some benefits, can also lead to excessive and harmful patterns of play.”
The authors goal here is to provide more information about hostility rates to MMORPG benefits and player choices within games, as they argue they are critical to understanding the importance of trait hostility and hazardous play. To do this, they look at the links between hostility and what they call “core player activities” in MMORPG: Skilling, Killing, and Questing.
To evaluate these relationships they surveyed 5847 players of RuneScape (RuneScape? Really) via Twitter and RuneScape forums. They measured their role preferences (skillers, killers, questers) trait anxiety (which they defined as “resentment and suspicion of others) — and any resultant beneficial outcomes from play with a series of questions – such as “The skills I have gained in MMOs have helped me to achieve major things in my life” and “my online relationships inside MMOs have helped with my offline relationships”
They found that respondents with the highest trait hostility scores tended to report the strongest benefits in terms of cognitive skills gained in MMOs helping them to achieve major things in their lives. Similarly, the most hostile respondents reported the strongest agreement that their online relationships inside MMOs helped their offline relationships.
The authors conclude that these findings offer a new perspective on the way a previously reported risk factor for harmful MMORPG play relates to player engagement by offering a helpful space for hostile individuals to develop problem solving and social skills and suggests that some people who might be vulnerable to developing “hazardous patterns” of MMORPG play may also be experiencing greater tangible benefits.
I found this article to be well written but not necessary particularly impactful. They state their hypotheses are:
- Trait hostility can impede the experience of MMORPGs cognitive and social benefits
- MMORPG spaces afford benefits for hostile individuals
- Player roles in MMORPGs are associated with differences in hostility, benefits in play
- Player roles moderate the relationship between trait hostility and play benefits
- The importance placed by players on in game achievements relative to offline achievements is moderated by hostility.
However, they never explain why it is important to answer these questions. They keep mentioning “hazardous” play but the literature doesn’t connect their hypotheses, to their findings, to any next steps.
I do like how they are trying to shed light on the potential positive outcome of video game play. and , as they state:
“our findings provide a new slant upon the choices players make within MMORPGs and the benefits that players believe they derive from these choices, including both positive skill transfer to players’ offline lives and, perhaps more strikingly, positive transfer from online to offline relationships. Critically, our research provides evidence that those vulnerable to patterns of play that might damage health and well-being report the most tangible benefits from these games.”
…but you have to define what you mean by hazardous play. You have to clearly discuss how knowing its relationship with in-game play styles is something useful to know – what can we do with that information? This work really points to the need for more research in the field of game studies that provides tangible evidence and outcomes that can be applied to the larger research community.