June 13, 2008

Study: Heavy Gamers Do Not Have Poor Social Skills

A new Australian study has found that playing video games does not translate into poor social skills.  

The research, conducted by psychology graduate Daniel Loton, queried 621 adults, mainly Australian males, who responded to an online survey. The questionnaire included scales to measure self-esteem, social skills and identify "dependence forming" and "problematic" behavior.  

The results showed that 15 respondents were "problem gamers" who spent more than 50 hours a week playing video games. However, only one percent had poor social skills such as shyness. Loton said the results contradicted stereotypes about gaming fans being dorky, lonely and unable to socialize.  

"Our findings strongly suggest that gaming doesn't cause social problems, and social problems are not driving people to gaming," said Loton during a Reuters interview from Victoria University.

"What is important to note is that even problem gamers did not exhibit significant signs of poor social skills or low self-esteem."

Instead, Loton said, the characteristics that most define heavy gamers include an intrusive preoccupation with gaming that affects work, sleep, and close relationships, along with  an inability to stop playing the games.

The study found that problem gamers were more likely to be involved in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) such as "World of Warcraft" or the genre classic "Ultima Online".

Loton, himself a long time video game player, spent the past two years conducting the study, before concluding that heavy game playing was not an indicator of poor social skills.  

"My analysis showed only tiny relationships, that is less than 5 percent of variation in problem play scores, was explained by social skills," he said.

The findings follow statements made last year by the American Medical Association (AMA), which said that MMORPG gamers were "somewhat marginalized socially, perhaps experiencing high levels of emotional loneliness and/or difficulty with real life social interactions".

Concerns about video game overuse have driven the organization to consider adding "video game addiction" to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders at its 2012 review.

But according to Loton, calling excessive gaming an addiction is an exaggeration.

"There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence about gaming addiction. Online forums abound with tales of people who can't get off the computer," he said.

"But from a clinical point of view, an addiction is a mental illness with very serious consequences. In this context, we need to ask whether gaming is responsible for causing people's lives to fall apart in the same way we see with gambling, alcohol or drug addiction."