You are what you play: videogames, personality and academic performance (Ventura et al., 2012)

Mizore Shirayuki (Rosario + Vampire) is optimistic about her poor grades.

There is no doubt people have preferences in their consumption, from foods, sports, hobbies, literature and videogames. In videogames, some are immediately appealing in various ways from the senses, narrative or gameplay, others are acquired tastes, and . The latter is difficult to investigate because of attrition whereas the former is easier because of a combination of stable internal traits and short-term appeals. Matthew Ventura (Florida State University) and colleagues investigated the relationship between academic performance, personality and videogame play, but with a novel take worthy of attention.

Abstract

The relationship between video gameplay, video game genre preference, personality, and GPA was investigated in an online correlational study with university students. In addition to administering selfreport measures of GPA and personality, we asked three different questions regarding styles of video gameplay. The first asked the average time spent playing video games per week (habitual players), the second asked the total time spent playing favorite video games (selective players), and the third asked the number of different video games played in a year (diverse players). Students who were medium in selective player style (spent 11–50 h) had significantly higher GPAs than students low on selective player style (spent 0–10 h). Students high on habitual playing style (7 or more hours a week) showed significantly lower levels of Conscientiousness compared to students low on habitual playing style (0–1 h a week). Students who were high on the diverse style (i.e., 7 or more games played a year) showed significantly higher Openness scores than students low on the diverse style (0–3 games a year). Finally, several notable relations were found between video game genre preference, GPA, and personality. Results are discussed in terms of the positive implications of video gameplay on academic performance.

Reddit was filled with finals macros and I realized that most university are at their end-of-semester period, except for OSU.

The personality theory in question is the Big Five Personality, a theory that has very broad applications across psychological domains that is its own chapter in personality psychology textbooks. A great deal of research in the personality literature has found a positive correlation between two of the Big Five, conscientiousness and openness, to college students’ grades (O’Connor & Paunonen, 2007). The Big Five Personality was also used in media research in some capacity, as a predictor of television genres (Hall, 2005), some of its factors acting as mediators between violent videogame and aggression (Markey & Markey, 2010) to avatar and identity research (Dunn & Guadagno, 2012).

Two of the Big Five Personality traits are relevant to the study between academic performance and videogame play. Conscientiousness is defined as how you are self-controlled, responsible and dependable, showing a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behaviour. A student who is highly conscientious is motivated to manage his or her time effectively in order to get good grades and is likely to play less videogames. According to the authors, videogames that include problem solving challenges demands skills that a conscientious person is likely to be strong at and most likely to enjoy performing, such organizational skills for resource or logistical management in RTS. Persistence and hard work is also a positive trait when there are very difficult videogames, thinking right now of Dark Souls.

Openness to experience is defined as how you are curious, creative, liking the novel, artistic and enjoy broadening your experiences as much as possible. A student who highly open is motivated to experience a wide range of videogame genres and as some videogames are creative and intellectually challenging than others, the same is true in school where he or she enjoys intellectual experiences and is thus motivated to learn. According to the authors, the diverse range of videogame genres and unique gameplay in each genre are intellectually enjoyable for an open person and in terms of problem solving challenges, allowing players to solving a challenge in multiple ways or being in a open-ended game world can foster openness. I often like those Eureka moments when solving problems and that is before looking up the faqs.

In general, the amount of time playing videogames has had a negative effect on student’s grades, although the relationship is mixed in the literature because the findings (IMO) are often simplistic, two measures used in their statistical model (e.g. videogame play time and GPA). Instead of asking a general question of videogame play time per week or per day, the authors conceptualize videogame playtime multi-dimensionally in terms of habits (e.g. “how many hours of videogame play per week”), selectivity (e.g. “how many hours spent on their favourite videogames”) and diversity (e.g. “How many different videogames played in a year”). This is what attracted me to review this study and it certainly raised doubts about certain populations who called themselves gamers when they are really playing just one or two genres and whether they are open or closed to novel game concepts.

Method

Participants: 319 undergraduate students, 161 male and 155 females. Average age is 23 years olds. 252 students were included in the analysis as some students did include their GPA or started out as first-years.

Personality questionnaire: Adapted from a prior study, they assessed for openness and conscientiousness with 10-items per trait with a 5-point agreement scale.

Videogame genre preference: this questionnaire asked participants how much they enjoy playing the following seven genres: Fighting (e.g. Street Fighter), Role Playing (e.g. World of Warcraft), Action Adventure (e.g. Legend of Zelda), Puzzle (e.g. Tetris), Social Media (e.g. Farmville), Platformer (e.g. Super Mario Bros.), Strategy (e.g. Civilization), Simulations (e.g. Sims), and Shooter (e.g. Call of Duty). The responses are on a 5-point agreement scale. Their questionnaire seems to capture a good portion of the videogame genre, although none are perfect since no one has created a definitive typology of videogame genres. However, my complaint is that they did not include sports, but it might’ve been included under ‘simulation’, I find it that the sports gamers are less likely to associate their sports game under ‘simulation’. I will stop here as this is a matter for videogame literary scholars to debate on.

Gameplay style

  • Habitual: “on average, how many hours do you play videogames?”
  • Selective: “Think about your favourite videogames, on average how many total hours did you spend across all these videogames”. It would be nice to ask how many videogames they considered as their ‘favourite’ relative to their repertoire, and how old they are. Seriously, I’ve got participants telling me that their favourite videogame is 10-years old and they’ve wrote 12 hours as it was 10 years ago *facepalm*.
  • Diversity: “How many different videogames do you typically play in a year?” I might of think of some limitations, but considering that some groups of interest don’t typically play beyond the high end of the long tail of videogame selection. Furthermore, some franchises don’t produce much on a yearly basis. On the other hand, I hope the participants don’t consider DLCs as a separate videogame that would be ridiculous because of its relatively small content size relative to its host game. However, expansion packs could be considered as videogames if there are enough content to ‘stand alone’ or substantially add beyond what DLCs contribute.

GPA: students reported their cumulative GPA scores from 0 to 4.

Results

The authors categorized each videogame play styles into three levels because of the small range of responses.

Habitual: 0-1 hour, 2-6 hours, more than 7 hours (min. = 0, max. = 60)

Selective: 1-10 hours, 11-50 hours, 51 hours or more  (min. = 0, max. = 5000, I’m guessing it’s wording of the question that resulted in such obscene number or that participant just doesn’t understand)

Diversity: 0-3 games, 4-6 games, more than 7 games (min. = 0, max. = 100, seriously?)

The correlations between videogame play styles are correlated from r = .033 to 0.59 (habitual X Diverse). The authors argued that these low to moderate correlations justify examining these styles separately.

To save time and effort, I present you three ANOVA tables.

Habitual videogame play, that is the average hours of videogame play per week, does not seem to affect GPA. However, there is a significant difference in conscientiousness scores where individuals who played least hours have higher conscientiousness scores than those the most hours who have the lowest conscientiousness scores. Those in the middle group are not distinguishable between the low and high habitual groups. This is really interesting and I must point out that the correlation between conscientiousness and GPA is r = 0.13, a weak, but significant correlation. My interpretation is that low gameplay time is not necessarily a good thing, it is possible that some fool might be using that time for other “unacademic” activities like partying, binge drinking, serial dating or just slacking off. Trait conscientiousness seem liked to a better predictor since it is possible that the more conscientious student can be very efficient in managing their time and that they are better players in terms of completion time.

None of the personality traits seem to be related to selective videogame play style and, at the top of my head, uses and gratification theory might step in to explain the differences. However, the authors did note a statistical trend for conscientiousness in a negative relationship. Perhaps they should conduct a non-linear analysis judging by the seemingly middle group sticking out like a sore thumb. There is a significant difference in GPA where those who played their favourite videogames between 11-50 hours have the highest GPA relative to the 1-10 hours group, but not to the 51 hours plus group. The low and high selective groups do not differ from each other. It seems rather odd about this relationship, but I am thinking that it is the wording of the question itself as it asked ‘favourite videogames (plural)’, of which the participant did not say how many videogames they considered ‘favourites’ and conferring that term is temporally relative. I had favourite television shows that I forgot about like ‘Lost’.

Participants who played many videogames have higher openness scores than those who played the fewest. Those who played between 4-6 videogames do not differ from both the low and high group. The authors argued that playing many videogames are likely to engage in intellectually challenging problem solving activities, I would like to add other intellectually stimulating content as well, such as thematic narratives, moral dilemmas, interesting facts, ways of thinking, and ways to perceive the world.  There are no differences in GPA.

This table is most fascinating and it speaks much about certain genres being enjoyable to certain audiences. Enjoying social media and shooters is negatively associated to GPA, I understand that social media videogames are big time sinks due to extrinsic motivators (e.g. Friends’ Farmville Facebook feeds), design and reward schemes (e.g. making sure players come back periodically or have them pay through micro-transactions). As for shooters, I could imagine the mindless fun with the boys is appealing. The shooter campaigns do not last longer than 5 hours, so I figured that multiplayer matches is what keeps them from writing good assignments, that and the goading and taunts is also keeping them stayed until they get even.

There are positive relationships between openness scores and genres. Interestingly, fighting games are positively correlated and the authors surmised that they motivate players to explore techniques in defeating other players (see comic below).  I will only mention those with no significant relations: social media and shooters. These two genres are not intellectually challenging as they usually require less mental effort to enjoy or play them. But they are immensely popular which I think explains the non-significant correlations as everybody plays them or rather are “required” or “must-play”, again pointing at the long tail concept. Social media videogames are probably enjoyable because of the gentle learning curve and habit formation (Wohn, 2012). The authors argued that these videogames are accessible through mobile devices, which can have a negative effect on study time.

Shooter videogames are a slightly different story, its learning curve is higher (as evidenced by my female participants’ difficulty in learning the controls). But given its immense popularity along with the sales figures, adolescent boys playing videogames also means they start playing shooter games. Second, shooter control schemes are relatively standardized so by the time they become college students, playing shooters is like riding a bike. Third, jumping puzzles, intellectually challenging problems in shooter games are rare with the growing exception of the first-person puzzle-platformers, such as Portal, Quantum Conundrum. Argued earlier for table 4, trait openness translates to exposure to many videogames, but also different kinds. Treading further, playing and encountering a diverse range of narratives and characters is quite beneficial in terms understanding and respecting social norms and people different from you. You learn a lot about medieval history from playing Skyrim, religions from Civilization, Japanese social niceties from playing many JRPGs. Politics simplified from shooters, depending on how interested is the player.

Conscientiousness score is negatively related to fighting, role playing, action adventure, and shooter genres. I’ve got nothing to comment on.

The take home message is that videogames cannot be viewed as a homogeneous entity as it should not be, but politicians seemed not to get the message. Different personality traits, videogame genre preferences have differential relationships with GPA. Unless you are planning to join the Army, shooters are not the best educational experiences in dealing with conflict management  (leave it to the MMO players), thinking abstractly for your physics assignments (leave it to puzzle players) or thinking critically (leave it to the person who plays a little bit of everything).

Here’s a tangential thought: most violent videogame experimental studies usually use shooters, or fighting games as their violent videogames. RPGs and strategy videogames are rarely used. The negative associations for shooters in this study would certainly give some food for thought about shooters, specifically its general direction and treatment of its narrative, war, characters, game mechanics and the player. I end this thought with a research question: Is Call of Duty promoting state violence, patriotism, narcissism, war and gun violence attitudes more so than Brothers-in-Arms?

Ventura, M., Shute, V., & Kim, Y. J. (2012). Video gameplay, personality and academic performance. Computers & Education , 58 (4), 1260-1266. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2011.11.022
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3 thoughts on “You are what you play: videogames, personality and academic performance (Ventura et al., 2012)

  1. Pingback: You are what you play: videogames, personality and academic … | Game Review Guide

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