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Social leaders or losers?
How many times have you heard negative connotations in regards to gamers, specifically those who play MMOs? Things like "they have no life" or "they should get out more" or "don't you have any friends?". Anyone who is into MMOs would have undoubtedly heard those and a multitude of other comments that are similar. Recently I asked myself what kinds of studies are out there on the effects of gaming? The answer is that there are all kinds of very interesting studies that have found elements of truth in the comments coming from the critics, but I also found some very compelling arguments in favor of the gamers.
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First the cons...
At Syracuse University, Associate Professor of Psychology in the College of Arts and Science of Syracuse University, Joshua Smyth has conducted one of these studies to try to determine the negative and positive effects on gaming. Professor Smyth assigned gamers to four groups: Single-player console games, Single-player PC games, Single-player arcade games, and fantasy-themed MMORPGs. For gamers of the MMORPG group, they reported a much lower level of overall health and well-being than the other groups. They were also observed to not be sleeping as well as they should and their quality and quantity of real-life socialization and academic work saw a sharp decrease. It was theorized that MMORPGs were so complex, so fantastical and alluring, and so involved that gamers reported that they had "...lost track of time" while playing and had "...gone to bed late" or "forgotten to eat". After only a few days of this, all the gamers of the MMORPG group showed a dramatic decrease in all areas of health. So from this study and others like it we can see that playing MMORPGs can have an adverse effect on you on your health, and that those comments that all gamers have heard at one point or another do actually have a whisper of truth to them.
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Now the pros...
These result, while taken alone, are not very surprising and are what most gaming critics would expect to see but what was somewhat startling were the benefits that were realized. The real shock came when people realized just how wide-spread and far reaching these benefits are.
From the study in Syracuse University, Professor Smyth found that his group MMORPG gamers also reported a much greater enjoyment and sense of reward from the game. They also reported having a higher interest of going back to the game to play some more at a later time. One of the more surprising benefits found was the rise in the gaining of new friends as compared with the single-player game groups, and the level of cohesion that often develops amongst players of MMORPGs. In fact, many real-life romances and relationships have blossomed due online interaction in gameplay. At this point the Syracuse University survey ends but the results and benefits don't stop there. The reason that they are not touched upon by Professor Smyth is because these benefits have a much broader implication and affect than those limited to just the gamers themselves.
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The world: A little smaller
With the introduction to our society, all of these new technologies: cell phones, computers, computer games, email, MMORPGs etc, the world has become a lot smaller in terms of us being able to communicate with each other. It is now easier to talk to someone on the other side of the planet than it ever has been before. Some say that this has come at the cost of no longer being able to effectively communicate and socialize with someone standing right beside us. They say that our ability to interact with our fellow humans is diminishing rapidly because our need to do so has decreased, thanks to games like MMORPGs and all of this new technology. What is really happening, however, is instead of this ability disappearing it is subtly changing and adapting to fit the world of today. Now instead of discussing our day with our neighbour over the back fence, we Twitter or connect on Facebook. A night on the computer completing raids with online buddies is quickly replacing "the get-together" with friends for a drink at the bar. The world is changing due to technology and being an adaptive species, we are changing right along side with it.
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Smaller but still lonely
Our ability to socialize with all members of our species has always been a challenge for us. At an early age such as in elementary school, you see male and females separate themselves without any verbal instruction to do so. Different ethnic and cultural groups have a tendency to congregate together as familiarity breeds comfort and so we stay in groups who can provide those recognizable atmospheres. These small groups may experience feelings of unity and bonding within themselves, but what about the rest of the world? When looked at under a microscope - is our ability to socialize really that evolved? We are still afraid of what is different and we still shy away from that which we don't fully understand.
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And so begins a new era
A survey by clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle found that gamers who specifically played MMORPGs, experience a wider range of emotions than those who play single-player games. The reason for this is because even though the settings, locations and characters are virtual and fictional, interactions with other players within the game are real and stimulate a far greater emotional response- some positive and some negative. With the introduction of MMORPGs into our everyday lives, we have started to see a level of unity and bonding , spanning the entire planet that is absolutely unprecedented. Never before in our history have so many people from so many different backgrounds come together to perform the same task - playing MMORPGs! People from every walk and station of life now talk to each other and play together as if long time friends. The color of ones' skin or the belief in a certain god no longer determines if two people can be friends. MMORPGs have united people like nothing ever has before. They promote a sense of companionship and teamwork that trancends issues that have torn countries apart for centuries such as, religion, politics, social class or country of origin. Some may scream "It's just a game!" And yes it is just a game, but if a game can inspire the world to play peaceably together, then what is to say that the world cannot one day work and live together in peace. Maybe these games offer a glimmer of hope for the future of our species. Perhaps MMORPGs are the first step in ushering in a new kind of acceptance across the globe.