Gamers do not “have absolutely no life” (Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2013)

The griefer who "has absolutely no life" (South Park)

The griefer who “has absolutely no life” (South Park)

The basement dweller, no-life, try hard. These derogatory terms are associated to gamers, to be more precise, people who play videogames for an above average amount of time which results in below average social skills, fewer social relationships and/or sexually inactive (virgin?). How this stereotype began is the purview of historians. This stereotype has been anecdotally supported by finding real life examples, but this could be due to confirmation bias. In any case, this assumption has been left unchallenged in the public, but academia see this quite differently.

There has been studies that explored the sociability of videogames, from multiplayer FPS gaming, LAN parties, to games in Facebook. I just got sidetracked from reviewing them. Rachel Kowert (University of Munster) and Julian Oldmeadow (University of York) published an article about online videogame involvement and social competence.

Abstract

Affordable and accessible Internet has changed the way video games are played, allowing individuals to connect worldwide in shared gaming spaces. On the surface participation within these environments may seem socially beneficial, as these highly social, playful spaces allow players to connect, interact with, and learn from others. However, there is a growing concern that increased participation within online gaming environments comes with a wide variety of social consequences, contributing to numerous losses in ‘offline’ sociability. While considerable research has examined these claims, consistent relationships between social competence and online video game involvement have yet to be established. The current work (N=515)aimed to examine the extent to which online video game involvement may support, or undermine, the development and maintenance of traditional social skills. The results indicate that there are unique relationships between social skills and video game involvement within online gaming populations. However, among online video game players, these links were not as negative or broad as hypothesized. The results of this assessment dispute the anecdotal attribution of a global level of social ineptitude amongst online video game players and provide insight into the potential effects of online video game play on skill development and maintenance.

In two weeks, the semester starts and haven’t gotten a vacation yet. So much to do, so little time.

The authors reviewed past studies where videogames are highly sociable environments where people form good friendships, get good advice and having liberating social experience. On the other hand, these online social experiences can displace offline social experiences reducing the number of offline friendships, problems with family and such of which these are concerns initially arisen. The authors argued that the relationship between videogame involvement and social competence is inconclusive. IMO, much like how the internet was first found to have negative outcomes for relationships (see Kraut et al. 1998), a second look at a much later time could mean a different and perhaps positive picture (see Kraut et al., 2002) or in the case of the present study, to establish a comprehensive relationship between videogame involvement and social competence.

Social competence is conceptualized as either having or not having social skills. This is just one way of defining social competence and the authors took this route of social competence as social skills. These social skills comprised of social and emotional elements with subcomponents of sensitivity, expressivity and control for a total of six social skills.

The authors introduced a novel concept called videogame involvement, it may sound ridiculous and trite to the lay person, but it is difficult when you define it abstractly and concretely without leaving holes. The general concept of videogame involvement is the degree to which one are involved with videogames as a form of activity or as commitment as the authors noted. The way to define it gets tricky. Normally, a lay person would simply ask how much time one spends on videogames and if it reaches an arbitrary threshold, they are “involved in gaming and are gamers”. The authors argued against this simplistic assessment as it cannot account for other factors. For example, a person can play Triple Town for 30 minutes every lunch break whereas another might play Skyrim or Kerbal Space Program the entire weekend. The authors proposed a composite of assessments with gameplay time, gameplay variety and social identification as a gamer. Gameplay variety as it implies as having experiences with multiple videogames and genres and not just FPS or sports games. The authors reasoned that engaging in various gaming behaviours means having a general involvement with gaming communities and environment. Social identification as a gamer is the result of the time spent playing with other players leading to forming attachments with the gaming community.

Method

Participants: Their initial sample size was 997 individuals recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The authors wanted to reduce cross-cultural variances, so they reduced the sample by only including Caucasian participants leading to a sample size of 629. Fourteen participants didn’t met the age criteria, reducing it to 615 and they are not done paring down yet. They checked the sample’s age demographics and found that there were fewer participants in the 40 years and older range, so they excluded anyone over aged 40 from the analysis, leaving them 537 participants.

I was a bit concerned about their posting a survey through an online service where workers get paid, from pennies to dollars, to do some online tasks. Rightly so, the authors argued that MTurk would represent a more demographically diverse population, no less accurate than traditional methods (but see Lelkes et al. 2012) and more eager to complete tasks (I had bad experiences with students who could not follow instructions). What I am interested is what kind of occupations they hold given that Griffiths et al. (2004) found a quarter of their sample worked in information technology or computer science.

Materials

Measure

Social Skills: Social Skills Inventory, a 90-item answered on a 5-point characteristics scale. The inventory has six subscales: Emotional Expressivity, Emotional Sensitivity, Emotional Control, Social Expressivity, Social Sensitivity and Social Control.

Videogame Involvement: There are three components. The gameplay variety component asked participants which genres they are currently playing and among each genre whether they are played in single-player or multiplayer. The genres listed are FPS, RTS, RPG, Simulation, turn-based strategy, party, sports and others. The social identity component is 4-items answered on a 7-point agreement scale. One example item is “I feel strong ties to be a gamer”. A colleague of mine tried something similar, except it involves Venn diagrams. The gameplay time component asked play time per week.

Results

The authors conducted a regression analysis with involvement as the dependent variable in order to examine the six subscales of social skills. Age, gender and online were significantly related to involvement. As for social skills with the prior variables taken into account, emotional expressivity and emotional control were positively correlated with videogame involvement whereas social expressivity was negatively related. There were no moderation effects as reported by the authors.

Discussion

The take home message is that gamers are not as socially inept as the stereotype described them. In my opinion, this might be due to the cultural and technological changes between then and now, especially (at the top of my head) with faster internet connection speeds allowing for voice chat, greater mainstreaming of gaming and the growth in social networking, that would complement and eventually enhance the online social experience. In the current study,  there is even some benefits in that more involved gamers have better ability to express and regulate their emotions, but were less able to engage others socially.

The authors addressed the relation between social expressivity (i.e. difficulties in initiating and guiding conversations) and videogame involvement. The authors argued that videogames accommodate for individuals low in social expressivity as it lowers pressure to initiate a conversation and eases it with the gaming tasks at hand.

The relation between emotional expressivity and emotional control with videogame involvement was rather unexpected and the authors did not elaborate further. But, this had drawn the authors’ attention about previous findings’ assessment of social skills. The authors expected a negative relation between involvement and emotional sensitivity, but found a non-significant positive trend. They further discussed that higher levels of emotional sensitivity can be indicative of shyness, a hypersensitivity to others’ non-verbal message and (IMO) being very self-conscious. Another expectation that is not met is the relation between videogame involvement and social control. The authors reference numerous studies that found a relationship between low social control and videogame addiction. The current study did not find such relation The authors argued that there might be an extraneous factor associated with videogame addiction, like lack of self-regulation or (IMO) obsessive passion.

The authors listed some limitations. The limited generalizability of the sample to a Caucasian under 40 population. A small sample size is a limiting factor, especially when you are looking at many variables at once. Finally, social skills is self-reported so participants’ own assessment may not be so accurate. A fourth of my own is the use of MTurk, perhaps the current study’s sample differ significantly from other studies where the latter may have recruited from videogame forums or through offline sites, like schools. But then again, I posted a survey on reddit and found fascinating, but predictable results. More on that soon.

Unrelated to the current study, but more related to Rachel Kowert’s current endeavour. Perhaps, there is actually a sub-group among others who fits the stereotyped definition of the gamer basement dweller.

Kowert, R., & Oldmeadow, J. A. (2013). (A)Social reputation: Exploring the relationship between online video game involvement and social competence. Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (4), 1872-1878. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2013.03.003

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2 thoughts on “Gamers do not “have absolutely no life” (Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2013)

  1. There are two things I forgot to mention. One: The antisociability of online environments, such as griefing, trolling and sexual harassment. Two: The romantic/sex life of gamers, are there any differences? (I know I’m being too vague, so anyone in that field should help out).

  2. Thanks for the thorough review!

    I totally agree that there is likely to be a subgroup of “gamers” who fit the stereotypic characterization. I guess the point here is that they are just that – a subgroup :-)

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