Examining problematic usage among guild players in MMOs (Peters & Malesky, 2008)

Online video game addiction was one of the buzzwords that attracted me to the field of psychological video game research. Now I’ve expanded my interest to anything video games, but had lost some interest in addiction. Speaking of addiction, I’ve spent some considerable time at 4chan, which I am beginning to appreciate the anime humour and the often NSWF images.


One popular facet of Internet gaming is the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). Some individuals spend so much time playing these games that it creates problems in their lives. This study focused on players of World of Warcraft. Factor analysis revealed one factor related to problematic usage, which was correlated with amount of time played, and personality characteristics of agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion.

I chose this article as it reminded me of a gamepolitics.com post about online video game addiction being a social problem, instead of a traditionally clinical problem.

A few days ago, I watched some George Carlin youtube videos and one of them was about euphemisms. He said a lot of convincing things about how we use different words to mean the same thing, but with the need not to hurt the feelings of others, if it really does hurt them. This relates to the word addiction, as it is currently carrying controversial baggage and so the authors decided to use the term problematic usage. What can I do about, language change as the people do. But I’ll use the word addiction and you are advised not to think of the extreme and biochemical kind.


Participants: Initially 204 participants who are members of a top guild in World of Warcraft. 8 participants were excluded due to ethical reasons in that they are under 18, this brings the total to 196. 38 participants did not complete one of the questionnaires, what the hell’s wrong with them? And 13 others did not complete another set of questionnaire. So, the authors have at least 158 complete data entries.

So why study top guild players? The inhumane requirements of staying as a member by grinding for hours, a minimum of 20 hours a week according to the authors. All that as training to beat those end-game instances and maybe to do it again to get those epic loot. But from my perspective, it’s simply that they played much longer than most players do. I’m not sure what percentages these super guilds represent, but surely they are a minority in the WoW population. So be advised that this study does not generalize to solo players, gold farmers or other kinds of players who may be clinically addicted to WoW.

Oh right, forgot the demographics: 173 males and 23 females (no surprise). Average age is 24, age range from 18 to 43. Average education level, “some college”. Over half of the sample are single. Not sure “single” also includes “not dating anyone”. Okay, I’m being mean here. Average play is 29.11 hours (SD = 14.79), although comparing the data from Williams et al. (2008), whose sample is 7000 players, the average play time is 25.86 hours (SD = 19.06). Are they significantly different? The averages say yes, but looking at the standard deviation, I incline to say no. However, being in a top guild might make some differences from the general player population.


World of Warcraft – Specific Problematic usage-Engagement Questionnaire: Adapted from Charlton and Danforth (2007)‘s measure. 27 questions answered on a 7-point likert scale.

McCord M5 questionnaire: a 50-items personality questionnaire on the Big Five personality.


The significant results are between the five personality traits and problematic-usage.

A moderate negative correlation with agreeableness, so less agreeable player is, the higher he/she scores on problematic-usage.

A moderate positive correlation with neuroticism, so more neurotic player is, the higher the score.

A low negative correlation with extraversion and conscientiousness, so more introverted and less conscientiousness player is, the higher the score.

Of course, the more hours played, the higher the score is.


So what does this relate to the gamepolitics.com post I mentioned earlier? Taking a line from the authors about the correlations on agreeableness and neuroticism, “one reason some individuals spend more time playing the game is to avoid face-to-face social situations in which they may lack the proper skills to foster good relationships.”

So those at risk with online video game addiction might take refuge in MMOs to escape a harsh social environment (i.e. bullying or poor social relationships). Of course, they are not loners as noted by the authors by the weak correlation in extraversion. They argued that they still want social contact, but given personality traits and probably social circumstances they are more likely to lean to socializing in MMOs. This is similar to what Keith Bakker (you’ll know who if you read the gamepolitics post and the BBC article), had concluded in his work.

Both the authors and Bakker seemed to argue that online video games are not the catalyst in addiction, but are symptoms from pre-existing problems as mentioned earlier. But there’s something that also intrigued me from Bakker’s words is that feelings of anger, alienation and powerlessness often seems vital factors in compulsive playing violent video games. Oh great, now I’m questioning what constitutes an aggressive personality in video game research. It might’ve been an aggressive personality born out of the powerlessness and alienation (bring in Freud!) or a true aggressive personality. Sorry if I’m not making sense here.

The authors noted a limitation in their research is that this is a self-report study and some participants were defensive or resistant in providing honest answers because the researchers are dealing a very controversial and public topic. They noted that participants were concerned that the research might be used to restrict play or political ammo for anti-game advocates. Like anything in life, one explanation from one study does not answer everything one asks for. One must be aware that life heads toward more complexities than simplicities.

IMO, from the grand scheme of life, it seems logical that there’s increased alienation and violent video gaming since the family unit in Western Society is not stable, e.g. high divorce rate, two parents working, uninvolved parents or helicopter parenting. I suppose a good solution is good parenting, but then society today aren’t too kind to everyone with work, debts, and whatever problems everyone carries around. The more I think about it, the less I think banning video games or time restrictions are going to be effective. I guess this a generational thing.

Peters, C. S., & Malesky, L. A. (2008). Problematic Usage Among Highly-Engaged Players of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 11, 4, 481-484.


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