A new study investigates the attraction of playing video games, an activity that consumes 3 billion hours a week around the globe. Obviously, having fun is why we play, but why are the games fun?
One study suggests their appeal lies in how they allow gamers to adopt desired personality traits, which in turn bolsters their self-esteem.
The study, led by scientists at the University of Essex, investigated the idea that many people enjoy playing video games because it gives them the chance to “try on” characteristics they would like to have as their ideal self.
“A game can be more fun when you get the chance to act and be like your ideal self,” explained social psychologist Dr. Andy Przybylski, lead author of the study.
“The attraction to playing video games and what makes them fun is that it gives people the chance to think about a role they would ideally like to take and then get a chance to play that role.”
Much research on video games has concentrated on the possible harmful effects, ignoring the simple question of why people actually want to play them.
A key finding in the current study is that having the ability to virtually change identity and acting through the identity (be it hero, sports star, villain, or a different gender) makes people feel better about themselves and less negative.
Researchers found that the enjoyment element of the video games seemed to be greater when there was the least overlap between someone’s actual self and their ideal self.
“When somebody wants to feel they are more outgoing and then plays with this personality, it makes them feel better in themselves when they play,” said Przybylski.
Przybylski’s research involved hundreds of casual game players in the laboratory and studied nearly a thousand dedicated gamers who played everything from “The Sims” and “Call of Duty” to “World of Warcraft.”
During the study, researchers would ask individuals how they felt after playing in relation to the attributes or characteristics of the persona they would ideally like to be.
The suggestion that people are using video games as a positive, self-esteem builder instead of a way to escape from themselves is itself significant, the authors said.
“I was heartened by the findings which showed that people were not running away from themselves but running towards their ideals,” said Przybylski. “They are not escaping to nowhere, they are escaping to somewhere.”
Findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.