Colorado State University students and faculty conduct field research in MMOs

Skyler Leonard

Students in the field of Anthropology are researching online comminites, MMORPGs, conducting field work within the games.
CSU students in the field of anthropology are researching massively multiplayer online (MMOs) communities and conducting field work within the games. (Photo credit: Kodi Hays)

While other players in massively multiplayer online games may be questing, pwning or leveling up, students and staff of the CSU Department of Anthropology are conducting field work.

From World of Warcraft to, more recently, Guild Wars 2, Colorado State cultural anthropology Professor Jeff Snodgrass has gathered research in online communities alongside students in his class, Cultures of Virtual Worlds: Research Methods.

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For Snodgrass’s current class, buying a copy of Guild Wars 2, which Snodgrass made available through the CSU bookstore, is a requirement. From then on, students practice field work in the virtual world, interacting with real people, conducting interviews and collecting field notes.

“It’s that multiplayer dimension that piques the interest of an anthropologist,” Snodgrass said.

According to Snodgrass, the stereotype of a gamer as a young man unemployed and living in a basement is false. He says there are a variety of different people who play MMOs, differing in age and with different education and income levels. However, Snodgrass said around 70 percent of MMO players are males in their late twenties with a high or average income level.

Recently, Snodgrass, alongside researchers from UCLA, the University Alabama and the University of Utah, published their findings in a paper entitled, “A vacation from your mind: Problematic online gaming is a stress response.” They concluded that, although there may be negatives associated with excessive use, MMOs such as World of Warcraft can serve as stress relievers.

In this sense, online video gaming is not so different from other hobbies or passions initially pursued for pleasure but which can turn compulsive, be it long-distance running, chess and bridge, or sports fandom,” stated the study.

According to the study, MMOs can act as a true form of escape that may reach problematic levels for those who live in stressful situations. The study compiled interviews from various players detailing their personal experiences. Some players dealt with different offline stresses that resulted in excessive amounts of playing.

“And so I was playing with my brother because he wanted to get up to as high rank as he could,” said Derek, a participant in the study. “For an entire summer we put in probably close to 8 to 10 (hours) a day every day. And looking back on that summer, you know, it feels … really kind of hollow. I spent some time with my brother, but it’s almost like a wasted summer, like one of the lost ones, I guess, in (a) way.”

According to the study, Derek and his brother used the game as a “change of pace” from arguing with one another and also as a mechanism to avoid dealing with soon-to-be divorced parents.

Still, Snodgrass says many gamers who do not have stressful lives play MMOs a healthy amount and exhibit potential therapeutic benefits from the games.

“We all have things to escape … I see no problem with these games; it depends on how people use them,” Snodgrass said. “People can use them in ways that are problematic, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the games.”

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Collegian Reporter Skyler Leonard can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Skyler_leonard.