Posted on September 21, 2011, Ross Lincoln
Unscientific Survey Of 42 Gamers Concludes Video Games Interfere With Perception Of Reality UPDATED
UPDATE: It seems we aren’t the only ones looking at this study and calling Bull. Professor Mark Griffiths, co-author of the study, insists it has been painfully misrepresented by news reports and he has taken pains to swiftly correct the record:
Of the headline claiming “Gamers ‘can’t tell real world from fantasy’”, Nottingham Trent University’s Professor Mark Griffith told Spong: “For one thing, we never said that in our paper and for a second thing, the findings don’t even hint at that.
The press release I put out yesterday regarding this study was completely neutral, not one negative thing in there.
The Metro, they obviously had an agenda – because all [the reporter] said was that he just wanted to know about the negative stuff. I told him that the paper was primarily positive, or at least neutral.
He said ‘I don’t want to know about that, I want to know the negative stuff.’ So I just went through what we did, what we found and what we are doing next.
Griffiths also criticised the reporting of the study in one of the UK’s other game-loving papers, The Daily Mail.
I’ve been doing this for 25 years – you learn to take the rough with the smooth,” he admitted. “But I stand by the research.
Better still, the most important criticism levied against the study – the incredibly tiny sample – is acknowledged by Professor Griffiths directly:
Of course 42 gamers is not a representative sample, it says in the paper that it’s not and we’re actually following that up now on a much larger scale, with participants from all over the world,” he said.
We weren’t even looking for this. The honest answer is that we went in doing a study for something completely different. But during the interviews it became apparent that the most interesting thing to report on was this unexpected activity – people that just spontaneously talk about carry-over effects from video games into real life.
So I happily stand corrected: much more science was happening here than I thought, and I’m now keenly interested in seeing the results of a much larger study. In the meantime, GameFronters curious about the small scale study can review the abstract here.
A study conducted by research by Nottingham Trent University and Stockholm University has apparently discovered something called Game Transfer Phenomena, a condition in which frequent gamers supposedly do thing in real life as though they were still playing. According to the study, gamers reported odd, in-game behavior ranging from looking for energy bars above people’s heads and reaching for a ‘search’ button when looking through a crowd. Most nefariously, the study claims that “Half of the gamers questioned said they often look to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue.”
Their conclusion is that “A recurring trend suggests that intensive gaming may lead to negative psychological, emotional or behavioural consequences, with enormous implications for software developers, parents, policy makers and mental health professionals.”
Sure, OK, but before we humor them, here’s a true story: By 2004, I had spent many years playing GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas. All 3 are really heavy on the driving aspects of gameplay but San Andreas is particularly varied with terrains ranging from city streets, muddy banks, highways, mountains, desert, woodland and so forth. When you drive all over San Andreas, you tend to encounter a lot of surprisingly realistic driving situations, particularly when you veer off of a set path.
So, in late December, 2004, I was riding shotgun with a friend from Los Angeles to Tulsa for a Christmas visit with the family. When we hit west Texas we ran into a very severe winter storm that had covered the highway with black ice. My friend was driving and she hit a patch, which caused the car to spin out and end up in the grassy median. Luckily, it was 4:30 AM on Christmas day, so no one was on the road, but we were now stuck in icy grass. Enter my video game habit. I had learned from hours of San Andreas that when stuck off road, the trick is to avoid trying to make a straight line from ditch to road, instead veering diagonally to reduce the incline and add traction. And it worked! We pulled ourself out of the ditch and made it back to the correct side of the road where we waited on the shoulder for a tow.
Which means I actually did use something from a video game to resolve a real life issue. It’s not unheard of! Hell, how else was I supposed to know, it isn’t like they teach off road driving at the DMV.
Anyway, back to this study. The study was conducted by interviewing a laughably small 42 gamers. And all of them are between the ages of 15 and 21. It’s worth noting not only that 15-21 is precisely the point in life when young people say or do stupid stuff, but the average gamer is actually 37, not 19. Gamers younger than 18 make up 18% of the overall population.
A study purporting to have identified a scary new psychological problem based on gaming that ignores the vast majority of gamers and uses a tiny sample size is a joke. It’s barely worth talking about now except for the sad fact that even after the researchers are laughed out of science for deliberately skewing a study to foster moral panic, the lazy media will be insisting for years to come that gamers can’t distinguish between games and reality. Just like rock music caused people to worship satan back in the 80s.