Have you ever been so absorbed in a video game that you lose track of time? One moment its noon and the next thing you know the moonlight is shining through the windows. This is not uncommon to many, our lives are filled with all sorts of video games, from the Sims to World of Warcraft. In fact, several researchers studied the positive and negative effects video games, in particular World of Warcraft, had on gamers. Apparently getting immersed in such a visually stimulating game as WoW can have both good and bad impacts on health. Jeffrey G. Snodgrass, Michael G. Lacy, H.J. Francois Dengah II, Jesse Fagan, and David E. Most studied the dissociation or immersion of those playing WoW.
What's really going on in our brains while playing?
Snodgrass and friends identify absorption as becoming unaware of the environment around them and time perception maybe altered. According to Snodrass it is commonly accepted that being absorbed in something is healthy. Most people become absorbed in things on a daily basis, for example reading a good book.
On the other hand there is the extreme version of this absorption called dissociative identity disorder or DID. This extreme detachment from the real world combined with amnesia, depersonalization, and de-realization have caused some scholars to diagnosed DID as a mental disorder. It is common for many people to become absorbed in things that give relief from the stresses of life. Except those that have DID use absorption to avoid stress.
Snodgrass goes on to describe the ways in which researchers are reacting to the good feeling benefits of dissociation. One such approach is looking at the neurobiology involved, which in lay man’s terms means examining the brain’s lack of attention to the world around it. Then measuring the reactions of the stressors to the environment in relation to health benefits. An example of this is meditation. Another belief is that being in these “feel-good” states releases endorphins. Other researchers have focused on the effects dopamine (which is connected to the brain’s reward system) and stress have on addictions to harmful subsistences. They study the amount of stress hormones such as glucocorticoids cortisol have in short-term and long-term situations. The results showed that with short-term stress an increase in dopamine allowed people to feel focused and alert. While in a long-term situation it led to an opposite effect. Causing those under chronic stress to need more feel-good activities and becoming more susceptible to subsistences abuse.
Snodgrass hypothesized that those who became absorbed in WoW could show the same mental states as other dissociates. He believes that those who become dissociative show both good and bad mental health depending on the players’ stress levels.
Research and Methods
Snodgrass and Co. used several methods for collecting data, they played the game, watched and interviewed other players. Three of the researchers hung out and played WoW excessively so as to better understand the effects of the game’s environment on their surroundings. They discovered that at some points it was a source of stress relieve while at other times it was the source of stress. They interviewed 30 gamers and split their data into three groups. One focused on the individuals’ motivations and goals, favorite and less favorite aspects of the game. Then gamers further described their positive and negative experiences when playing WoW. The third part was the cultural success in the both the game world and the real world.
In addition, Snodgrass conducted a Web Survey with three scales. The first measured individuals’ levels of absorption using the Tellegen Absorption Scale and the Dissociative Experience Scale.They were asked to describe to what extent they became absorbed into the world of WoW. The second part measured how playing WoW negatively impacted their real-world lives. The last part asked the gamers to measure the extent WoW added to their happiness.
Table 2 shows that 30% became so absorbed in the game that they blocked out the world around them. While, two-thirds said that losing track of time was also common, but that the virtual world of WoW felt real to them. In fact, many believe that the happenings in this fictional world were more memorable than events in their actual lives. Some even feel as though they truly are their characters.
Table 3 focuses on the effects WoW has on players. Half of those surveyed said that the game actually increased their happiness. Many more found that the game was relaxing and helped release stress, increasing their life satisfaction. Oddly, most of those surveyed said that WoW didn’t increase stress, but one-third did agree that to a degree it did add to stress. Half did admit to being addicted to the game.
While doing research Snodgrass observed that many players found the world to be visually pleasing, vivid, and even seemed real. Many people, including the researchers preferred to be called by their character’s name while playing. In fact, the researchers found themselves unconsciously referring to each other with these made up names outside of playing WoW. Many of the players experienced the good benefits from being absorbed in a game. The researchers interfered that these players achieved positive dissociation from moving away from their stressors. Some even reached a meditative state.
At the opposite spectrum the game was creating stress for some players.While many players started playing to avoid stress, yet found themselves being so immersed that they neglected every day responsibilities, creating more stress. Over time these players needed to spend more and more time in this fictional world to get the “good-feelings” from the game.
Dissociation in WoW leads to both positive and negative mental wellbeing. Some people find WoW to be therapeutic, contributing to their over-all happiness and mental health. While others become so addicted to the game and found themselves unable to leave the game. Snodgrass believes that over-all playing WoW is not necessarily a bad thing and that it can actually be a healthy thing, relieving stress for most players.