Online video games with thousands of simultaneous players, such as “World of Warcraft,” have become hugely popular in the last two decades and are now a multibillion dollar industry with tremendous financial success. Joshua Smyth, associate professor of psychology in The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, recently conducted a randomized trial study of college students contrasting the effects of playing online socially interconnected video games with more traditional single-player or arcade-style games.
While both multiplayer and traditional single player video games present a double-edged sword, Smyth’s research found that online, socially integrated multiplayer games create greater negative consequences (decreased health, well-being, sleep, socialization and academic work) but also garner far greater positive results (greater enjoyment in playing, increased interest in continuing play and a rise in the acquisition of new friendships) than do single-player games.
“The most striking result of this study is that playing online multiplayer games had much greater positive and negative effects on people than playing traditional single-player video games,” says Smyth. “Students in the study who played online multiplayer games did so about three times as much as those playing single-player game types, averaging over 14 hours a week.”
In his study, Smyth randomly assigned 100 college student volunteers to play one of four types of video games: traditional, arcade-style games (such as those found in the local mall); console games like the Sony PlayStation; single player computer games; and fantasy-themed persistent online multiplayer games.
Computer networking—linking players from across the world together in a single game—has dramatically changed the nature of video game play from a solitary activity into a large, thriving social experience. Multiplayer online role-play gaming, one type of social gaming, can involve thousands of players in persistent virtual worlds.
All students taking part in the study reported decreased health and sleep and interference with real-life socializing and academic work. In contrast to these costs, participants experienced benefits, most notably by those taking part in online multiplayer game play. Online multiplayer gamers enjoyed their play far more than those assigned to more traditional game types, creating new friendships in their online environments.
“Video game play does interfere in some aspects of real-life — such as academic performance, health and social life — but game play can also foster strong feelings of virtual support and new friendships,” Smyth says.
The study is published in the October 2007 issue of the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal CyberPyschology & Behavior (Vol. 10, No. 5: 717–721).
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