Gamer Widow: A Phenomenological Study of Spouses of Online Video Game Addicts by Jason C. Northrup and Sterling Shumway was published in The American Journal of Family Therapy by the Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. in 2014. As a phenomenological study, it is qualitative; researchers rely on interviews and subjective descriptions from individuals who directly experience a phenomenon.

Phenomenological studies are basically larger case studies; researchers avoid interjecting their own preconceived ideas, expectations, biases, and assumptions and carefully record the details of an experience directly from those who experienced them. Information is collected, categorized, and analyzed for common elements. This study focuses on the experiences of self-described “gamer widows“.

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For more on phenomenological research go here: Phenomenology Research Overview

As a qualitative study, meaning exploratory, and utilizing qualitative methods like phenomenological studies, it basically means the researchers are looking at a side of the topic that has not previously been studied before. In this case much of the study of gaming addiction has focused on the players of games (“gamers”), and differences between the kinds of games that gamers play.

The researchers, Northrup & Shumway identified online support groups for gamers and their loved ones to help deal with online gaming addiction. They viewed anecdotal self-reported evidence from members and felt the effects of this kind of addiction on loved ones was “significant” and also provided consistent evidence for systems theory; that the actions of one person affects other members of a system.

The purpose for their study was to “better understand video game addiction’s effects on marriage by describing common phenomenological experiences of gamer widows“. With that purpose in mind the researchers recruited ten volunteers from online forums who self-identify as “gamer widows”, were currently married and believed their spouses addicted to MMORPG gaming.

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The research study is a little different in its discussion of reliability and validity components, and though the study is predominantly a qualitative research study, the researchers attempted to quantify some of the data for analysis. Basically the researchers categorized common experiences into three categories and category themes.

Categories were:

  1. Changes in my husband
  2. Changes in me
  3. Changes in the marital relationship

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Themes in the category changes in my husband are:

  1. Real world isolation
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Personal consequences

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Themes in the category changes in me are (with sub-themes):

  1. Emotions
    1. Anger and resentment
    2. Stress
    3. Frustration

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Themes in the category changes in the marital relationship (with sub-themes):

  1. Our roles and responsibilities
    1. Chores
    2. Parenting
  2. Distance
    1. More conflict
    2. No emotional intimacy
    3. Rare physical intimacy
    4. No communication
  3. Financial losses

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As could be expected from a research study that is exploratory and involves a very small sample size with understandable limitations, the results are difficult to generalize and further research using a larger population size and quantifiable research methods will be necessary in future. The research findings for this study appear to support prior research on demographics and similarities between gaming and alcohol addiction.

In essence, the results of the analysis were that gaming addiction causes changes in gamers that affect them physically in terms of their health, causes them to isolate themselves in an offline context, and causes damage to relationships with immediate family. Family members and family structure (marriage) and family finances are negatively impacted by gaming addiction.

All in all this is an interesting study to read even though the results were not really all that surprising given the results of previous studies. This one looked more into the effect gaming addiction has on spouses, and being exploratory the findings were naturally very subjective. It will be interesting to see if further study of a quantitative nature is conducted with a much larger population and what the results will be.

Cheers and thanks for reading.