PALE, overweight couch potatoes. That's the stereotype of avid online computer gamers, but these joystick junkies are actually in better than average physical condition, a new US survey suggests, although they may be less healthy mentally.
Researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Palo Alto Research Center, also in California, and the University of Delaware in Newark, quizzed 7000 players of the role-playing game EverQuest II about their physical and mental health. Participants were offered a specially created virtual weapon as an incentive - the "Greatstaff of the Sun Serpent". The researchers then combined the survey responses with statistics about players' online activities and playing habits.
The results suggest that adult gamers have an average body mass index of 25.2, compared to the overall American average of 28. The average gamer also engages in vigorous exercise once or twice a week, which the researchers say is more than most Americans. The reasons for this are not obvious, although the team suggest it may be because more educated, wealthier people are attracted to computer games, and these people also tend to take better care of their health.
Average gamers engage in vigorous exercise once or twice a week
The downside, however, was that the gamers reported more cases of depression and substance abuse than their compatriots. "They may be drawn to use the game to help deal with emotional distress," says team member Scott Caplan of the University of Delaware.
The work also suggested that young men do not dominate such games, as they are often assumed to: there were more players in their thirties than in their twenties, and older players tended to spend more time in the game. Furthermore, although fewer women played the game, those who did typically played for longer than men (Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol 13, p 993).
Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University, UK, has found that most gamers simply exhibit healthy enthusiasm for their hobby rather than obsessive addiction, and says the new results sound about right. But he adds that since the research only studied one multiplayer online game, its conclusions may not be true for single-player console games. "They involve very different psychologies," he says.