Biased video game studies

I’ve ranted about this before, but I really hate when social scientists conduct studies that produce results that are obviously going to support what they are looking for due to poor methodology.

The latest thing I’ve read is about a CDC study which “discovered” that the average gamer is 35, fat, and depressed. It also reported that video-game players have lower extraversion that is linked to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status.

For starters, the research was based on a survey that only covered adults 19 to 90, ignoring all the kids and teenagers who are active game consumers. If they had said “average adult gamer” that would be a different issue. And how are they defining what a “gamer” is? Gamers are no longer people who have consoles. Are they including desktop games (like the guy who plays Tetris at the office) or mobile games?

As for sedentary lifestyle, if you’re looking at the hard-core console game player, of course they’re people who are going to be less physically active. It’s like saying the couch potato has a tendency to be immobile. But it’s not TV or the games that make the person that way. If, for instance, games did not exist, would those people be outside kicking a ball around? Perhaps, but I say they’d more likely be reading a book or doing some other activity that requires less physical movement. Also, it’s not fair to say that games make people physically lazy because there are little options (until the Wii at least) where one can be physically active. No one does studies to see whether people who like movies have a tendency to prefer sitting down, because movies are a genre that require one to sit down. It’s not fair. If we conducted a study on teenagers who mostly play games on their ipods, for example, I’m sure we’ll get a different response. The study (as it says itself) was looking for data to support their hypothesis that video-game players have a higher body mass index than non-players, and it found what it was looking for. If the study were conducted in Cambridge, MA, I’m sure the results would be different. Of all the people I knew in Cambridge who liked playing games, more of them were slender and fit. Besides, in Korea, the hard-core gamers are all skinny. Go to any PC room and you’ll know.

Besides, the study was conducted in Seattle, which, with all due respect, is probably not the best location to isolate depression as an independent factor. With the majority of the console game titles having content that does not exactly boost your positive vibe, is it fair to say that games depress? Although I receive a huge adrenaline rush when playing games that involve shooting, killing, destruction, etc. I do admit that the content does not make me feeling any better, although it makes me feel alive. The real study that needs to be done is to compare people who play Halo to people who play Flo’s Diner Dash. I’d really like to see someone prove that playing Plants vs. Zombies makes one depressed. If anything, I think that watching a smiling sunflower makes me feel happier.


3 responses to “Biased video game studies

  1. You forgot to mention about how they got the “average age” of the gamer. Doing research with samples as diverse as “19 to 90” will invariably skewer the data. Example, if you have one 90 year old gamer for every five 19 year old gamers, then the “average age of the gamer” (as in the study I ommitted the “adult” word) will be 31. If we have one 90 year old for every ten 20 year old gamers, then average age will be 27. Now, when you take into consideration that the average adult gamer is 19 to 35 (not factoring in the bejeweled/facebook gamer or Old Grandma Hardcore) one single 90 year old “I liek to play Street Fighter with the yung’ns” gamer will skewer the data a lot.

    As for the depression diagnostic we need to ask: did they go through the medical records of all the participants in the study, thus breaking the law and moral ethics of human participants in research, or did they base it on the opinion of the participants? “Are you depressed? No? You mean Yes? Ok” ?

    As you so eloquently point out, video games do not make th lifestyle of a person, and being a gamer myself if there were no video games around I know for a fact that I would rather read Fanon than go outside and kick a ball. However, we also need to ask if these researchers included DDR players in their hypothesis?

    Finally, he chose Seattle because it’s the 13th biggest media market and a lot of people use the internet. However we need to wonder, by media market does the researcher mean “video game market” or just general media market? It might well be that this study wasn’t conducted with real gamers at all, but with “couch potatoes” that play bejeweled while checking their work e-mail, and given that the gamers in the study use the internet while playing, then what I just stated is all-too likely – and that means one of two things: the investigation was poorly carried out, or MSNBC did an extremely poor job of reporting.

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