Don’t stop me! I have to be there for an important raid: passion, craving and emotions in MMOs (Stoeber et al., 2011)

An article published in Personality and Individual Differences by Joachim Stoeber (University of Kent) and colleagues caught my attention as it was looked into the role of passion in the emotional experiences during videogame play in MMOs. It has been about two years since I heard about the dualistic model of passion, since I became acquainted with it at one of the annual convention of the Canadian Psychological Association.

Abstract

According to the Dualistic Model of Passion, two forms of passion can motivate a behavior: harmonious passion and obsessive passion. Across various life activities, studies have found that the two forms of passion show different relationships with affect, linking harmonious passion to positive affect and obsessive passion to negative affect. To investigate if this pattern also holds for online gaming, the present study investigated 160 gamers involved in playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMOs) and examined positive and negative affect (a) when playing and (b) when prevented from playing. In addition, the effects of general affect and craving for playing MMOs were controlled for. Results were as expected from the Dualistic Model of Passion: harmonious passion for online gaming predicted positive affect when playing whereas obsessive passion predicted negative affect when playing and when prevented from playing. Moreover, these effects remained unchanged when general affect and craving were controlled for. With this, the present research shows that individual differences in passion for online gaming explain unique variance in gaming-related emotions. Moreover, the present findings suggests that craving is a variable that future research on positive and negative affect in online gaming should pay closer attention to.

I’m at East Lansing posting this review. Michigan State University seems like a nice place.

I’ll supplement the abstract’s definition of the dualistic model of passion. Harmonious passion, as it sounds, is where an activity (e.g. videogames, studying, writing, exercising, etc.) is freely engaged by the individual and, despite the perception of long hours, does not interfere with other aspects of life (e.g. work). In contrast, an obsessive passion for such activity is not freely engaged by the individual, but the individual was pressured into it by interpersonal (e.g. social network, online communities) and intra-personal (maybe achievements, monetary rewards) forces.  The resulting obsessive passion interferes with other aspect of life and this is reflected by their bad moods (e.g. being distressed). Interestingly, the authors noted that these type of passions overlap with each other shown by positive mood being associated to both passions and in the same correlation direction.

Given this conundrum, Stoeber and company sought to examine these perplexing associations by replicating prior studies and using more refined statistical analyses. Second, they wanted to see how passionate players feel when they are prevented or interrupted from playing as prior research found that reacted differently. Thirdly, they sought to examine how craving is associated to passion. Craving, the experience of an overwhelming, often irresistible, desire for a substance or activity, seems like a common sense component of addiction and it’s quite logical to connect craving with passion.

Method

Participants: 168 participants who are playing MMOs. 133 males and 35 females, average age is 25.4 (SD = 9.0). 81% listed World of Warcraft as their favourite MMO, 13% Ultima Online with the 6% as other (e.g. Star Wars Online, etc.) with an average playtime of 27.1 hours per week (SD = 20.2h). These participants were recruited online through MMO forums, so they completed surveys. Eight participants were removed because they did not responded with any care (e.g. gave same responses to all questions or gave wild responses indicative of not caring).

Measures

Passion: The abbreviated form of the Passion Scale, a 10-item 5-point agreement scale of which half of the items assess each type of passion (harmonious and obsessive).

Affect: The abbreviated form of the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). They chose 5 items strongly associated to positive affect and 5 items strongly associated to negative affect of which they are answered on a 5-point quantity scale (e.g. not to all to very much). This measure was used three times in the survey for the following: (1) their feelings in general, (2) their feeling while playing their favourite MMOs, (3) their feelings when prevented from playing MMOs.

Craving: They adapted the Gambling Craving Scale, a nine-item 7-point agreement scale to assess craving.

Results

As you can see from the table below (taken from the actual article), both types of passion are significantly correlated in the same direction with affective responses during play and when prevented from playing. More importantly, harmonious and obsessive passions are positively correlated with each other.

Because of the overlap between the passions, the authors conducted partial correlations (i.e. controlling the influence of the other variable) to find out the unique associations between each passions type to the affective responses. What they found is the expected associations posited by the dualistic model of passion, as you can see from the table below.

Harmonious passion is positively associated to general and playing positive affect whereas obsessive passion is positively associated to general and playing negative affect. Furthermore, there is a positive correlation between obsessive passion and negative affect when prevented from playing. Craving is still associated to both types of passion.

The authors, then, conducted two hierarchical regressions to find out the unique contributions of the dual passions towards affect while playing and affect when prevented while controlling for craving and general affect. Their first analysis indicated that harmonious passion predicted positive affect during play while controlling for general affect, and predictably obsessive passion predicted negative affect during play and when prevented from playing. Surprisingly, harmonious passion is also predictive of negative affect when prevented from playing.

Their second analysis included craving as a control variable which changed the picture.  Harmonious passion no longer is a significant predictor for the negative affect when prevented from playing, although it still remain a significant predictor for the positive affect during play. Obsessive passion is still a significant predictor of negative affect when prevented from playing, although craving itself was non-significant.

Discussion

The take-home message is that players with a passion in their multiplayer favourite videogame are likely to feel good or bad during play and when prevented from playing, conditional of whether their passion is harmonious (good) or obsessive (bad). The authors argued that passion may explain individual differences in how people play and respond to MMOs and relate to their general perceptions of well-being. For those with a harmonious passion with their gaming, they generally feel good and don’t feel bad when prevented from playing, accounting for their level of craving. However, those with an obsessive passion with their gaming, they might not feel good emotionally and physically.

One might ask why people with such obsessive passion might feel bad and continue playing a game that doesn’t provide pleasure. From the earlier description of obsessive passion, external and internal pressure to play the game drove them. I could surmise one external pressure might be the lure of a better social life, or the lure of external rewards (e.g. achievements, monetary). I am more inclined to examine the role of achievements in gaming as it fits with the force of an external pressure: you play this game or do certain in-game actions because of an external reward, you are pressured for it. Achieving it could bring pleasure, but you might want to observe how you felt when you started going for that achievement or whether how long that good feeling of achievement lasted (I better talk to Carlos about that). I have no experience in MMOs, but I gather that quests, highly rewarding raids or very demanding/hardcore gaming groups might be the sort of external pressures leading towards obsessive passion and thus leading to grumpy players with bad hygiene.

One interesting finding is that craving was found to be associated with positive and negative affect along with both types of passion. The authors argued that such individual difference in craving would clarify the picture in the relationship between the types of passion to videogame addiction. Although, craving is associated to both good and bad feelings during play which is expected, but it is associated to bad feelings when one is prevented from play which helps differentiate people at risk of addiction at that specific situation (IMO).

The authors listed their limitations. They only looked at affect and suggested more questionnaires, such as well-being questionnaires like social life quality, overall health , sleep quality. Second, this is a correlational study, so no way of knowing a causal relationship. It would be nice to have a longitudinal study to establish this causal relationship, which would be great to find out if it was either the game itself (at least not being the greatest factor or the game mechanics) or one’s passionate engagement as a predictor of videogame addiction. If we can establish a causal relationship indicating that passion is a significant factor, one could establish a preventive program where players are taught not to take their gaming obsessively and try to integrate harmoniously into their lives. Their last limitation is the generalizability of their findings as they surveyed MMO players and this may not apply to other types of videogames, such as single-player games. I tend to believe that videogame addiction in its current form is limited to MMOs and if there are cases of videogame addiction besides MMOs, we might have seen these cases much earlier. First, the external rewards have to be tangible (e.g. money, loot, good feelings or dopamine if we want venture into neuropsychology), they must sustain behaviours for long periods and they have to include elements of chance. Single-player games tend not to have a randomized play pattern (with the possible exception of casual games like Bejeweled), but generally are made to be completed with skills and practice that even a beginner can finish. Perhaps this characteristic is what differentiates a videogame from a slot machine.

Stoeber, J., Harvey, M., Ward, J. A., & Childs, J. H. (2011). Passion, craving, and affect in online gaming: Predicting how gamers feel when playing and when prevented from playing. Personality and Individual Differences , 51 (8), 991-995. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.08.006

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