I love this article. There are a few reasons for this. First, in the disclosure statement there is a note about how no competing funding was provided for this research. That is important because there have been other researchers (who I won’t name, but I REALLY want to) who have accepted monies for their research which may have been influential in the results of their research. This makes their research controversial and more pseudo science than psychology. So, I appreciate that this research was done without “competing financial interests”. Second, the findings of this back up a lot of my favorite gaming research and it was done in a much different way than the others. Allow me to illuminate.
Frostling-Henningsson studied players in Stockholm in two online-gaming centers (yes, I know we don’t use them much anymore here, but this is a great place for qualitative research). She spent time from September 2006 to February 2007 observing gaming sessions, and interviewing gamers. Her participants were 19 males and 4 females between the age of 12 and 26 years old. These ages are slightly younger than typical gamers, but seem to be more accurate of typical FPS players.
She found themes of motivation for play in the responses of the participants. The first one she found was communication. Players like to socialize. This is nothing new to us. Other research I’ve reviewed here has shown the same theme in EQ and WoW players as well. The second theme she found was connection in ways that were unanticipated. In other words, players enjoyed the fact that real world identifiers (i.e., age, gender, sexuality, or appearance) don’t affect whether we are willing to connect with others. Rather, things like personality, kindness, support, maturity, and game skill/cooperation inform our connections. This is a very positive theme in gaming. It means that gaming transcends borders and boundaries that tend to stop us in real life. It makes us less biased and allows us to judge based on more solid grounds; things that matter. This is consistent with what Chayko (2008) says of virtual connections as well; our sociomental connections (i.e., connections we make in mental spaces and not physical, face to face spaces) are a more real kind of real and tend to be more intimate because we invest more time and energy into them.
The third theme Frostling-Henningsson found was that there is a feeling associated with gaming that participants experience. One unlike that of reading (though described to be similar to that type of immersion) or movies, tv or real life. Gaming allows us access to experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to; running through the Sphinx, or shooting up a hospital whose only inhabitants happen to be brain munching zombies. These things don’t happen, they’re not experiences we’re ever likely to have. Yet gaming allows us to experience them. One of my favorite thoughts in the article come from this section as well. The comment is made by one of the participants that he feels relaxed when he is playing CS but his girlfriend says it’s really just a way for him to take out his aggression. Do you think expressing or expelling pent up emotions is or can be a form of relaxation? I certainly do, but I just might have to research this and let you all know what I find out.
The fourth motivational theme found was that of teamwork and cooperation. Gamers preferred to work together, even when they were on opposing teams. Think of all the meta rules implemented when you and your friends game, “Let’s kill everyone else first, then square off one on one,” or “NO CAMPING, YOU NEWB!” The fifth theme was gaming allowed for an escape from the anxieties and stressors of the real world. However, some of the participants mention that they play CS rather than WoW because they feel some sense of control over just exactly how immersed (or ‘sucked in’) they end up being. I’ve heard that plenty of times, but I’m not so sure my CS playing compatriots are any less ‘sucked in’ than I am by League of Legends, or my brother is by World of Warcraft. Could there be personality, perception, or motivational differences in who gets consumed by which games? Another item on my research “to do” list, I assure you.
Finally, Frostling-Henningsson found that gamers like to play because they feel like the virtual world is a real world, just a different real world. This is consistent with research that says virtual worlds are just as real, if not seemingly more real, as the offline real world. People can become different selves, try on personalities, let their hair down, as it were, and become disinhibited all without worrying about real world consequences. Don’t believe me? Check out last week’s article about permeability between virtual and real worlds. The bottom line is that we’re social beings who love, live for, and grow from all kinds of exciting experiences; real, virtual, or otherwise.
Frostling-Henningsson, M. (2009). First-person shooter games as a way of connecting to people: “Brothers in blood”. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(5), 557-562. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0345