Griffiths, M, Davies, M., Chappell, D. (2004) 'On-line computer gaming: a comparison of adolescent and adult gamers', in Journal of Adolescence, Vol 27: 87 - 96.
Most of the research on adolescent computer-game playing has been negative. This study is about online role-playing games, especially 'Massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG)' (88). The most popular one of these, and the largest, is the Sony game Everquest which can have more than 400,000 players involved, typically around 2000 players at any one time. The game allows a range of identities and genders to be chosen, and there are a number of options for playing each character, for example 'as good or evil, a friendly or unfriendly race and a profession that is seen as a team player or more of a loner' (88). Players communicate with each other via on-screen text, either collectively or privately. Because this is a relatively new development, the aim of this study is to collect 'benchmark data' (88), drawing on the earlier work done by the authors. Earlier data has suggested that it was largely adults who played this game rather than adolescents. However, the data was rather weak: to compensate for this, on-line questionnaires were located at various Everquest fan sites and bulletin boards. They asked for basic demographic data and questions such as playing frequency, playing history, whether or not they had ever gender swapped, most and least liked aspects of the game, and what was sacrificed in order to play the game. [The particular technical difficulties of such on-line questionnaires are explored on pages 89 - 90].
Results showed that players were overwhelmingly male among adolescent players (93 versus seven per cent), slightly less so among adult players (80 versus 20 per cent). Players were overwhelmingly American, especially among adolescents. The adolescent players seem to have dropped out of high school rather more than is average, although they may have misunderstood one of the questions. 37 per cent of the adult sample were married. The vast majority of adolescents were in education or unemployed (77 per cent).
Players seem to spend a lot of time playing Everquest -- they had been playing on average 25 months, some for more than three years. Older players seem to be playing for longer periods than the younger ones. Two-thirds of the adolescent sample played with friends, and slightly less for adult gamers. 46 per cent of adolescent players had gender swapped, and 62 per cent of adult gamers had.
'The mean playing time per week for the adolescent gamers was 26.25 hours... [and for adult gamers]... 25 hours' (92). [Compare this with the much lower figures cited in the Gentile study]. These means conceal a wide range: a small number of players 'claimed to play for over 70 hours a week' (92). 'Overall, age was related to frequency', but not in a particularly linear way -- some of the younger groups played for much longer.
The favourite features of Everquest were coded into five main forms: playing for social reasons; enjoyment of violence; being able to play alone; game specific features, such as character role play; other features, such as character-building. The most popular features were the social reasons. Adolescents were keener on violence than adults. Least favourite features were coded in a similar way, and produced opposite results -- so more adults did not like game violence. The most common dislike turned on specific features of the game.
Responding to the question of what was sacrificed most in order to play, about 21 per cent of both adolescent and adult gamers said that nothing was particularly sacrificed. About another 20 per cent said they had sacrificed another hobby or pastime, or sleep. 23 per cent of adolescents reported sacrificing work and or education, but only seven per cent of adults. 13 per cent said they had sacrificed contacts with friends and family (adolescents): 21 per cent of adults. This last difference was the most significant.
Overall, it seems that Everquest is 'geared towards the older player' (94), if only because a credit card is required to play it (Sony are apparently introducing a game card to permit younger players to participate). Males were 'predictably predominant' (94) among adolescents and adult players, perhaps because there is 'extensive violence within the game', and one of the characters is an appealing female. American adolescents seem particularly attracted, probably because the game is American. The significant differences between adolescents and adults emerged as: the rate of gender swapping (and 'Females were significantly less likely to gender swap in both groups' (95)); preference for social aspects of the game; preference for violence; and what was likely to be sacrificed -- social events compared to education and work.
There is some evidence that 'some online gamers may be experiencing addictive like experiences' (95) [based on a notion that their play is 'excessive' in terms of time devoted to it]. Perhaps it is the combination of 'competitive and cooperative aspects of the game' that is responsible -- gamers can play against other people as well as against the machine (95). However, 'further study it is... needed', and it is generally difficult to separate 'non-pathological high engagement and addiction' (95). It could be argued that only a few gamers display excessive commitment and negative consequences, although most players report 'at least some negative consequences in their lives' (96).
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