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Gamers not social misfits, after all

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It's official - gamers are not socially inept, even those who arguably spend far too much time with in front of the screen, joypad in hand.

That's the key finding of a research programme into so-called problem gaming conducted by Victoria University psychology Honours graduate Dan Loton.

Loton wanted to investigate gaming addiction, to see whether it could prove as dangerous to health and wellbeing as addictions to gambling, booze or drugs. To that end, he devised an online questionnaire designed to probe gamers' personalities.

Some 621 gamers - mostly male, mostly Australian - completed the survey, of which only 93 people - 15 per cent - could be described as 'problem gamers' - people who spend more than 50 hours a week playing online games.

That appears to contradict the volume of anecdotal evidence from online forums that a fair few gamers spend far too much time online, unable to disconnect from the computer and the virtual worlds it hosts.

"The characteristics that might define a 'problem gamer' would be things like an intrusive preoccupation with gaming, where the amount of time they spend playing is affecting their work, sleep and close relationships," said Loton. "They want to stop playing games but can't.

"We found that those who played Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), such as World of Warcraft, were more likely to exhibit problematic game play," he added.

The survey's questions were designed to tease out a number of other details too, including social skills. Loton found, contrary to popular belief, that they're not socially inept. Only six people - one per cent of the total - showed signs of social difficulties, and that was primarily shyness.

Even those gamers classed as 'problematic' didn't show any particular tendency toward social inability. They're not spending many hours on line as a way of avoiding other people.

"Our findings strongly suggest that gaming doesn't cause social problems, and social problems are not driving people to gaming," said Loton.

"I think it's an evolution of social and cultural stereotypes that suggest only nerds and geeks play computer games," he added. "The reality is that nowadays everyone is playing video games."

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