Excessive use of Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games: A Pilot Study, written by Zaheer Hussain and Mark D. Griffiths was published in the International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction in February 2009. The study examines the massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) social and psychological impacts on MMORPG players.

The study was based on a sample population of 119 individuals; they ranged in age between 18 and 69 (with a mean age of 28.5) and “self-selected” themselves (presumably this means they volunteered themselves) to fill out a questionnaire that made use of an adapted addiction scale. The questionnaire used made reference to “excessive” and “dependent” online gaming in its language (p.563).

Very basic but useful chart on scientific evidence that doesn’t get into the whole discussion of quantitative and qualitative research methods. To break that down to as easy and simple as possible: quantitative involves numbers, qualitative involves words. It’s a lot more involved than that but the rest might get fairly boring unless you really like science. 

This particular study starts out with a literature review which is standard practice for scientific research studies. This term refers to an examination of preceding studies into the topic so that readers of the current study can see how it fits relative to what was previously noted; for instance, does it replicate a previous study, do the findings corroborate or call into question the results of a study?

Or does the study fill a gap in the research, something that has not yet been examined more closely in a previous research study, adding to the available literature compendium of knowledge? In  this case a number of the previous studies mentioned are small, exploratory, involve the use of questionnaires (in at least one study a questionnaire was “adapted”), and sample population sizes are too small and homogenized.

In one described study of a qualitative nature, the data was subjective statements from the sample population about one MMORPG. In another qualitative study, the same population consisted of 10 individuals of similar age and nationality. One study was mentioned with a large sample size (7069), that used two questionnaires and results were 12% of the sample population met three unspecified criteria for addiction.

Hussain and Griffiths note that the previous studies tended to focus on player demographics rather than the psycho-social factors of online gaming. As previously noted this study also uses a questionnaire to measure “excessive use” and “dependence” in players of MMORPGs, and with a population sample of 119 individuals from primarily the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, generalization is not likely.

Pretty good guide to spotting bad science articles; do beware though, there are fake journals around where for a fee anyone can get a “scientific research study” published. I will eventually include here one such study I came across while in school. 

In the methods section the researchers describe the questionnaire including questions that were adapted from inventory tool (a kind of questionnaire) used to measure addiction to exercise. The researchers make a decent argument for the use of the inventory as well as the design of their questionnaire, and the usefulness of the survey program for potential study replication for larger and more globalized sample sizes.

The procedures section describes where the study questionnaire was placed in order to get attention from players, including which MMORPGs were involved in the solicitation. The games include EverQuest 1 and 2, World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, and Lineage II. The procedures section also details participant rights, study details and consent.

The results section details how the researchers determined excessive gaming, as well as how they operationally defined dependent gaming in psychological and behavioral terms. They did find a strong correlation between the amount of time players spent gaming and self-reported determinants on the adapted scale for dependent gaming. Of the participants, 7 were classified as dependent, 94 as non-dependent on gaming.

The correlation between the amount of time players spent online gaming and behavioral dependence criterion is described as “relatively weak” by the researchers, who also point out that the scale used to determine psychological and behavioral dependency has not been validated for this purpose. That and problems with sample size and homogenization means that this study is interesting but needs a much larger replication.

Given the problems with size, validity of the tool used to measure addiction and the relatively weak correlation between time spent playing MMORPGs and behavioral dependence, there were some other interesting correlations. Gamers with strong dependency scores were significantly more likely to prefer online socialization to offline socialization, though some non-dependent players also prefered online socialization.

Another identified problem was the determination for excessive or problematic period of time spent playing an MMORPG. The researchers determined that 35 hours a week or more would be considered excessive for the purposes of their study. However, they noted that most MMORPG players play an average of 20 hours a week and did not consider this to be excessive or problematic.

Dependent scoring players were also more likely to increase the amount of time of playing sessions over time, to use the gaming to control mood changes, and to have problems controlling how much time they spent gaming (described as cutting back on the amount of time playing only to relapse and go back to the original amount of time spent playing).

The researchers suggest that a measurement tool be designed specifically for quantitatively measuring online gaming addiction: that it “be tested for internal reliability,” and content, concurrent, and construct validity. Likewise the researchers suggest the use of a qualitative analysis approach previously used in another study that they believe would obtain valuable insight into player personalities in a future study.

In addition, the study should be duplicated using the improved measurement tool, and the qualitative analysis approach, with a much larger, more global, and diverse sample population of MMORPG players. This should also include a wider range of MMORPG games; they used four forums that spanned ten games, they felt this likely increased homogeneity of the players themselves.

All in all this was a very small though creative and interesting study. It is not uncommon for scientific studies to be small and full of limitations, but I was impressed by how the researchers were careful to specify the limitations and the need for very specific improvements. The findings were interesting in that while causation could not be determined, it did show some correlations to look more closely at in future studies.

This was also a research study that dates back to 2009, so it has been noted in research studies that have come after it. Every published research study has its own literature review. These serve to catch a reader up on the whole topic of what has been researched so far, and helps other researchers determine how best they can contribute to the topic. However, conclusions cannot ever be determined on the basis of a single study.

So stay tuned and next Wednesday we will go over another research study on the  topic of online gaming addiction. If you would like to read this particular study directly it can be found here: Excessive use of Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games: A Pilot Study If you have access to a university library, try locating the article there first; this site charges $39.95 plus taxes (USD).

Cheers and thanks for reading!