The growing interconnection between gaming and psychology has produced an unexpected but welcome effect: game players are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors after playing video games. This unexpected outcome came about when researchers applied a standard battery of psychological tests to a sample of male gamers. The results, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Associations, show that playing computer games does not lead to increased sexual aggression or risky sexual behavior. Instead, the study found that players were less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors after playing a particular type of game: “interpersonal video game play,” or IPV.
Most people familiar with online multiplayer role-playing games, or MMORPGs, would likely be surprised to hear that “interpersonal video game play” refers to the game genre’s interactive elements – the kind of interaction that occurs between people when they are not sitting down in front of their computers. It also takes the form of a game within a game, so that a player spends time not just engaged in a narrative or action within the virtual world, but also engaged in “real world” social behaviors such as dating, interacting with friends and foes, or even taking up work. The difference between a traditional MMORPG and an IPV is that players are not forced to interact with other people; instead, they must create their own connections and relationships within the virtual world. And for this reason, traditional MMORPGs are less addictive than their IPV cousins – at least based on research conducted on college students. But the new study offers some intriguing new insights into why and how people get into the games in the first place, which may help researchers understand the potential causes of gambling and gaming addiction.
The study looked at two different groups of gamers: one who were actively playing online and one who were playing offline. The results showed that those gamers who were playing online spent significantly less time engaged in risky sexual behavior and significantly more time in “social activities.” When they were offline, the same group of gamers spent significantly more time chatting and socializing. Interestingly, the amount of time spent chatting did not change much from those who were online playing. The researchers call this pattern “social isolation,” and it may be reflective of the way that gaming can influence social behaviors.
The researchers also looked at how the same gamers who were either online playing games or offline socialized. What they found was that those who were active online spent significantly more time engaged in e-mailing and discussing issues in the gaming industry – in essence, forming an online forum for gamers. Those who were not active logged on spent more time talking about general issues in society and other games. In both cases, the amount of time spent chatting and socializing did not change significantly from those who were actively participating in gaming. This finding suggests that there are significant changes that can occur in a person’s behavior once they begin playing video games.
So what does this all mean? For parents and other concerned citizens, it means that you need to make sure that you, your child, or anyone else using game consoles have appropriate safety settings turned on. In particular, many game consoles have safety options that allow you to set up time limits for gameplay – a limit to the amount of time that a player can be online at one time. This is an important feature because too many times a game session can last up to an hour. If a parent can block off a specific amount of time for gaming in order to keep kids from getting too involved, then it can help prevent them from becoming overly excited while playing.
The key point is that video games are not always good, safe past-times. It seems as if more people are talking about the negative effects of gaming, especially when parents start hearing about all of the threats that exist in the gaming world. While the video games industry is not going to make any changes to the way that they market their products, there is a lot of research being done on the positive aspects of the virtual world – and parents and other concerned citizens should take advantage of this research in order to be sure that children are kept safe when playing video games.