Transmutations of Self:
The Personality of Cyberspace Through the Modern Video Game[1]

Michael Oswalt
Haverford College
May, 2000

 

Abstract[2]
 

Three hypotheses positing divergent psychological mechanisms underlying human interaction within cyberspace and in relation to the self - Turkle's theory of multiplicity, Talbott's notion of automaticity, and the reapplication of Marcuse's term, non repressive sublimation -- were considered with respect to the computer gaming population. Issues of gender, addiction, aggression, and age were also investigated. Subjects were recruited through Internet discussion groups according to their interest in the three games (genres) of investigation: Quake (First Person Action), Everquest (Role Playing), Starcraft (Real Time Strategy). Subjects in each category completed an on-line questionnaire regarding descriptive and personality data, gaming proclivities, the within and out of game subjective experience, and gaming motivations. It was predicted that the psychic process of greatest import while gaming related to non repressive sublimation. In addition, a specific personality rubric was thought to correspond with each gaming population. A carthartic effect in relation to aggression was also hypothesized along with the presence of a strong association between high levels of gaming and auxiliary addictive behaviors. Females were predicted to be less numerous and embody unique personality characteristics. Age assumptions presumed a large inclusion of subjects acting within Erikson's developmental stage of Identity versus Role Confusion. Results suggested aspects of both role play and sublimation (of a repressive nature) best described the mental processes at work while gaming. Personality, gender, and age hypotheses were partially supported while addiction and aggression predictions were not. The findings are discussed in relation to the "self". Future research in this area must pay particular attention to the multifaceted interaction between personality and the context of cyberspace, seriously considering the existential impact of virtual experiences on the self of the physical realm.

 

 

There was a time when the term "cyberspace" had a single connotation -- that of the vividly futuristic virtual worlds described in the annals of various tales of science fiction. Today, however, what was formerly a prime example of esoteric jargon to all but a few is a concept of great significance to anyone who owns a computer. In his book, Neuromancer, William Gibson's fictional conception of a simulated technological web of information linking social, economic, and civic establishments has now been grounded and encapsulated by a desktop machine commandeered not by sleek, dark, computer hackers replete with body sockets, but by one's neighbor, the local butcher, or a ten year old girl.

The realization of a tangible cyberspace has led to more varied and specific definitions of its components than the general picture painted by Gibson. The rise of the Internet, connecting hundreds of millions of computers around the world, allows for information exchanges of gigantic proportion. From electronic mail to chat rooms and bulletin boards, to the World Wide Web in all of its textual, graphic, and interactive splendor, cyberspace is experienced by almost all, and few who enter its matrix do not return again, somehow affected by its mysterious magnetism.

 

Gaming in Cyberspace

In its most broad sense, cyberspace can also be defined to include the electronic world of video games, driven either by a home computer or based on a video game playing console connected to a television, such as the Nintendo 64 or the Sony Playstation. In some cases, this sweeping conception of cyberspace is not a stretch. For instance, the game Starcraft is a computer based game played against opponents over the Internet, and a large portion of the action is dictated by onscreen chat with other players in cyberspace (Blizzard Entertainment, 1997). At another extreme, the gaming experience of Goldeneye 007 is mediated only through the Nintendo64 gaming console, and opponents may only exist in a physical setting, playing side by side in the same room (Nintendo Inc., 1997). In both cases, the video game subject is intensely involved in the graphic and rapidly developing experience on the screen. Gibson himself once described his amazement while watching children play an arcade game:

"I could see in the physical intensity of their postures how rapt these kids were. . . you had this feedback loop, with photons coming off the screen into the kids' eyes, the neurons moving through their bodies, electrons moving through the computer. These kids clearly believed in the space these games projected." (Turkle, 1995, p. 265)

 

Indeed, as Sherry Turkle writes in her book, Life on the Screen, "video games carry ideas about a world one does not so much analyze as inhabit," and as one eighteen-year-old game enthusiast stated, "it doesn't feel so much like solving a puzzle as living in a puzzle." (1995, p. 68)

Thus, from a psychological standpoint, video games compose an important aspect of cyberspace to the extent that the intensely interactive capabilities of the game directly affect the conscious reality of the game player. As Eugene Provenzo, author of Video Kids, maintains, one must be aware of the nonneutral aspects of video games, as they are endowed with special and symbolic meanings, allowing one to ask why we are, and who we are (1991, p.139).

Furthermore, as recently reported by Greenfield and Cocking (1996), video games generally comprise a child's first and most frequent computer experience. Even before the advent of the personal computer, there was Pong, a primitive table-tennis game released by Atari in 1972[3] (Provenzo, 1991, p.8). In turn, as computers advanced, so did the games. And today, even in the sprawling and constantly expanding sphere of cyberspace, the video game is unchanged as a microcosm of the virtual realm. Thus, as the major vehicle for computer socialization and as a distillery for the psychologically salient aspects of greater cyberspace, the video game is an obvious choice as a subject of study to gain entry into the psychic and personality factors at play for the modern day cyber-frequenter.

 

Cyberspace and the Self

From a psychological standpoint, little has been published with respect to theoretical aspects of the gaming experience. However, as a subset of sorts, the psychological salience of video gaming can be studied through an investigation of cyberspace as a whole and its relationship to the self. Accordingly, the interworkings of identity and cyberspace have recently become a hotbed for speculatory work, and such writings provide the fundamental foundation needed for serious treatment of the psychology of video games, as a function of the cyber-universe.

The seminal works within this emerging cannon are Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen, and Stephen Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst. Both suggest that in relation to cyberspace, modernist notions of the self as a coherent and unitary entity are at best antiquated and at worst erroneous conceptions of identity, though they arrive at that conclusion through divergent avenues of thought.

 

Turkle

Turkle first implores the reader to rethink the common sense notion that at base the human identity consists of a singular underlying process and unitary essence. Through a variety of observational reports and a plethora of personal statements from highly active computer users, she presents the argument that the computer, as the vehicle for a uniquely compelling "culture of simulation", exposes the self as a wholly postmodern entity - fluid, scattered, and decentered (1995, p.20).

More specifically, for Turkle, cyberspace has the capability to construct the user's senses of self through her own volition. Using Multi-User Domains (MUDs)[4], identity may be customly construed or invented as one writes, directs, and acts in one's own drama as "whoever you want to be…completely redefining yourself." (Turkle, 1995, p.184) The redefinition to which Turkle refers is clearly devoid of metaphor: "MUDs make possible the creation of an identity so fluid and multiple that it strains the limits of the notion ." (1995, p.12)

Alternatively, Turkle posits that the computer may also deconstruct the self by acquainting one with the undiscovered parts of one's identity lurking beneath the surface of the ego, discovering one's "inner diversity of being" (1995, p.256). States one user, "my ego becomes a hollow tube where many voices speak through." (Turkle, 1995, p.256) Indeed, Turkle explains that in freeing one from the constraints of physical reality, computers allow the user or game player to discover and play a self inhabiting a world where "objects fly, spin, accelerate, change shape and color, disappear and reappear." (1995, p. 66) Consequently, by allowing one to experience a world of dreamlike reality, all users have the key to unlock the variously desired identities hiding inside (Turkle, 1995, p.266).

In all, Turkle concludes that by allowing users the abilities to both invent and excavate parts of identity, cyberspace helps one discover a postmodern way of knowing. That is, just as one recognizes that the computer screen is merely a surface of simulations to be explored, one comes to see reality in a similar light. Cyberspace "blur[s] the boundaries between self and game, self and role, self and simulation…you are what you pretend to be…you are what you play." (Turkle, 1995, p. 192) Thus, she suggests that "this makes social knowledge into something that we might navigate much as we explore the Macintosh screen and its multiple layers of files and applications." (1995, p. 180)

In turn, MUD players, for example, come to realize that the conception of a unified self is simply one more synthetic reality. In MUDs, many selves are manipulated and none seem any less real than the socially constructed "real world self", for all can be played out and explored interactively. In a sense, for Turkle, the self of cyberspace is not simply an alternative model of identity, it culminates in an alternative lifestyle spanning both the real and virtual. Indeed, she contends that the postmodern self of cyberspace is a liberated self, opposing the modernist model of identity which "maintains its oneness by repressing all that does not fit. Thus censored, the illegitimate parts of the self are not accessible." (1995, p. 45) In contrast, a postmodern identity affirms that the decentered self does not require a hierarchical model of multiplicity - all notions of "I" are inclusive, valid, and most importantly, intensely real.

Turkle's argument gains needed potency from interviews with high-end computer and game users spending upwards of one hundred hours a week in cyberspace. Not only do their descriptions of self suggest a great disunity, it appears that their physical and cyber reality have become one. One user asserts that his time in front of the computer screen "is more real than my real life." (1995, p. 10) For another, physical reality is "just one more window," for, "after all, why grant such superior status to the self that has the body when the selves that don't have bodies are able to have different kinds of experiences." (1995, p.14) A final user posits that playing a video game involving creationism makes him feel, "like God," and that he is "addicted to flux…it is a complete escape…I can only relax if I see life as one more [game]." (1995, p.179)

Thus, for Turkle, computers represent a proactive entity that is a reflexive tool, acting both for the user and on the user, creating and unearthing multiple identities - "the obese can be slender, the beautiful plain, the nerdy sophisticated." (1995, p.12) This fluid, decentered self experiences roles not sequentially, as one in a physical setting might play a father in the morning and a banker in the afternoon, but in parallel, through different virtual windows, simultaneously a barbarian and a lover.

 

Talbott

Stephen Talbott shares Turkle's view that the psychological saliency of cyberspace exists in its capacity to embrace and cultivate a postmodern aesthetic of identity in everyday life; the meaning of self is unstable and unknowable, for once defined it immediately changes. Talbott, however, views these technologically generated and essentialistically void identities as a serious danger, signaling an abdication of consciousness to a machine, and more fatalistically, that: "we will finally lose ourselves." (1995, p.10) For although Turkle acknowledges the potential hazards involved in such a model - her final chapter is entitled "Identity Crisis"- her overall tone is one of optimism. She is clearly hopeful that the simulation of community, and ultimately, identity, on the screen can lead to a new epistemology of self allowing one to "cultivate awareness of what stands behind our screen personae" in productive ways (1995, p.269). Talbott's divergent assessment is clarified when one investigates his formulation of how the singular self becomes inherently multiple.

For Talbott, much of the cyberspace appeal is borne of a misguided ideal that cyberspace is clean, entirely conceptual, ungrounded and thus uncontaminated (1995, p.9). As a result, theorists like Turkle are swept away by unfounded sanguinity, believing, as one user states:

"We will all be free to conduct our lives as we each see fit. For the first time in human history, rapacious societies will no longer have the power to make war on their neighbors…cryptography for the masses will guarantee a universal right of privacy; the Net prevents social coercion and conflict, and what is best in cyberspace always survives, while the inferior withers away." (Talbott, 1995, p.3)

 

In turn, Talbott argues that this unrealistic optimism is primarily linked to a dangerous abstraction in which inner qualities of humanity disappear into mechanisms. As a result, life in cyberspace is grounded in a "barely intended logic, contaminated by wishes and tendencies we prefer not to acknowledge." (Talbott, 1995, p.2) He writes that what Turkle terms "life on the screen" is in actuality on the margins of awareness, linked with instinctual urges, and as such, behaviorally automatic (1995, p.2,3).

Examples of this automation involve notions that the computer entices one to carry out business and social responsibilities without consciously being present. This includes emails "dashed off, without a second thought" and the "universal habit of scanning induced by the Net, forcing a superficial, abstract, associational reading of disjointed texts." (1995, p. 7) In total, no time is left for self-reflection, and abstract representations of human interaction create identities in which "the head has been severed from heart and will…the head runs on by itself - automatically, according to its insulated logic - controlled by subterranean impulses of the heart [one] can never be fully aware of." (1995, p. 12) Therefore, the self is fundamentally split, unaware that its actions are no longer under conscious control, in actuality driven by instinctual forces fostered by the pull of automation. And in Talbott's terms, "the correlate of automation is the scattered self."(1995, p. 4)

Thus, Turkle and Talbott arrive at similar conclusions regarding the effect of cyberspace on identity through differing theoretical avenues. For Turkle, the decentered self emerges through intensely real shiftings of roles and personae, while for Talbott, the incoherency arises through a process of enticed automation, leading to actions controlled by unacknowledged forces, yet nevertheless believed to be conscious by the user. In conclusion, Turkle's notion of the shattered self is easily viewed as potentially fruitful for the inhabitant of cyberspace. Through life on the screen a user may explore or construct parts of her identity by way of virtual roles she would otherwise be unable to manipulate, gaining realistic self-knowledge to apply in all areas of existence[5]. Conversely, the scattered self described by Talbott is one of utter unawareness, driven by forces beyond one's control, thus inapplicable to any sort self-betterment.

 

Psychoanalytic Reconciliation

The extent to which these two theories may be reconciled is of obvious import, as their consequences are diametrically opposed. Unfortunately, Turkle's thesis lacks explanatory depth, while Talbott's suppositions beg further investigation.

In the main, Turkle's book is driven by its vivid descriptions of "life on the screen", no doubt an important first step in fleshing out the psychological aspects of cyberspace. In doing so, however, she neglects to provide a serious causal account relating the explicit components at play that would catalyze the postmodern reformulation of identity she suggests. The reader is left only with the notion that somehow the intense cycling of roles possible in cyberspace creates a recipe that highlights a neoconceptualiztion of a disunified self. Yet, the ingredients composing the recipe are obscure, and the reader is forced to question what is so implicitly powerful about cyberspace that it may fundamentally alter the identity realities of seemingly stable human beings.

In fact, taken alone, Turkle's largely depthless accounts of role playing in cyberspace, albeit amazingly new and existentially interesting, beg one to inquire the extent to which personality psychologists, social anthropologists, sociologists, and the like should take her work as a serious threat to a priori assumptions of identity. For, in one sense, one need look no further than early English literature to note that at least one dramatist had a clear understanding that "all the world's a stage."[6]

In more contemporary terms, sociologist Erving Goffman suggests that the "capacity to switch roles [is] predicted…everyone apparently can do it." (1990, p.78) In describing the disposition of the tyrannical businessman morphing into a loving and tender father at home, the more numerous British public school accents than public school graduates, and the common housewife who enters a beauty parlor in order to be called, "Madam", Goffman posits that the dissociated self is a already a natural and inevitable occurrence (1990, p. 156).[7] Moreover, Goffman asserts that "there are many individuals who sincerely believe that the definition of the role they habitually project is the real reality", and objectively, there is no reason to believe that a projected self is any more real than any other aspect of self (1990, p.77).

Thus, it might be argued that Turkle has simply uprooted the Goffmanesque notion of self presentation in everyday life and replanted its components in cyberspace. The context has been altered, but her disregard of any concrete psychological mechanisms at play while enmeshed in cyberspace leaves little fodder for subsequent research. Description does not imply explanation.

In contrast, the Doomsday approach taken by Talbott includes a variety of provocative statements in need of sensitive treatment. For Talbott does provide explanatory, albeit obscure, notions underlying the elements involved in the creation of a disunified self in cyberspace. As previously noted, he suggests that various computer applications and their correlates can elicit an unintentional logic of thought, permeated by wishes and instinctual desires from the periphery of awareness (Talbott, 1995, p.2,4). He posits that activity is enticed toward "passivity, automatism, and lowered consciousness," that one experiences life without "being all there." (1995, p. 7,8) Furthermore, one can never be aware of this automaticity driven by "subterranean impulses of [the] heart" (p.12) because Talbott contends that hundreds of years of tradition teaches us to ignore mechanisms of identity which are antagonistic to existing cultural values (1995, p.12).

With such statements framing the derivation of his argument, it is surprising Talbott does not explicitly acknowledge his so obviously psychoanalytic grammar. Notions of lowered consciousness leading to an instinctual automaticity of behavior, ideas of an unintentional, confusing logic of thought, and of a socializing mechanism in civilization prodding humankind to ignore inherent parts of self are all concepts saturated by the hydraulic forces comprising a psychodymanic worldview.

Thus, it appears that Talbott, possibly reticent to evoke the connotations associated with Freudiana, attempts to explain interactions in cyberspace from a psychoanalytic framework without denoting it as such. Psychodynamic processes, it would seem, provide an amazingly rich foundation to investigate human-cyberspace interactions, and might add needed depth to descriptive and vague arguments such as those promulgated by Turkle and Talbott.

 

Holland

For all of her ungrounded narrations, Turkle admits that cyberspace does "provide much grist for the mill of a psychodynamic process." (1995, p.208) Others have been more specific. Norman Holland, for example, in a paper entitled "The Internet Regression", not unlike Talbott suggests that in cyberspace humans revert to primitive behavioral acts characterized by sex and aggression. He offers a litany of examples of these acts, most falling under the categories of flaming (typewritten rage) and sexcapades (e.g. gender-bending and sexual harassment). In explanation, Holland posits that the computer facilitates a lack of inhibition in the user. It comes to be seen as an ideal friend, understanding the user fully, being faithful, forgiving, and nonjudgmental, rewarding good behavior yet never punishing (1995, p.3). Thus, as the computer becomes personified, it provides ample fodder for the user to project both phallic (my system is larger and more powerful than your system) and oral (feelings of oceanic envelopment accounting for the loss of boundary between person and machine) fantasies onto the screen (1995, p.3-6). In a sense, Holland states explicitly what Talbott intimates: the unique effects that cyberspace exerts on the user can be explained with a psychoanalytic lens.

Subverted "Awareness"

However, it remains unclear why the realm of cyberspace in particular is so conducive to the notions of decreased awareness and increased automaticity. Additionally, it is important to delve deeper into the specific psychodynamics of regression at work while navigating cyberspace.

In response to the former, Talbott's decreased awareness and increased automaticity in cyberspace may be explained by the drastic shift in reality that takes place when one is mentally drawn into this arena. Few aspects of the physical world hold true in cyberspace, and in many ways this makes it an attractive arena for interpersonal and fantasy-like activity.

This is most apparent in regards to social interactions in cyberspace. For, as Erving Goffman explains, even seemingly frank personal encounters in the physical world of everyday life are subtly, yet stringently, constrained. According to theory posited in The Presentations of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman suggests that social interactions require the people involved to stage elaborate performances under the assumption that the inner desires and feelings of the true self must never be revealed, as they conflict with very definite socially defined roles. In the presence of others, a performer must embark on a special investigation to discover how the interaction should be defined, and as such, how each participant will agree to stage the encounter. In turn, a "working consensus" is borne out, delineating the scripts of each actor such that the delicate interactive structure protecting the roles of each will not be disturbed. Thus, social interaction in physical reality is no whimsical affair; it is a highly skilled exhibition of a manufactured self, so difficult that Goffman contends, "life is not much of a gamble, interaction is." (1990, p.45)

Additionally, Goffman posits that the chief director of our synthetic outward identities is society at large. The performer merely exists to "incorporate and exemplify the officially accredited values of the society." (1990, p.45) As a result, few actors are contented with the working consensus - it is not congruent with free will - and few avenues exist for expressing and acting out discontent with its supremacy.[8] Thus, Goffman contends humans are naturally seduced by areas of the social world known as the "backstage." The backstage is an agreed upon locale such that no interactive working consensus is necessary, within the deepest depths of formal restaurant's kitchen, for example. Sloppy posture, sub-standard speech, and open sexual remarks are freely acceptable in the backstage, as it is a unique area to relax the normal rules of interaction. True backstage areas are uncommon, but remain a necessary component of social life as a respite from the normal demands of interaction (Goffman, 1990, p.129).

In turn, the backstage can be viewed as a special forum for decreased behavioral awareness, lowered consciousness, and increased automaticity. And of note, taking into account the almost infinite potential for liberated behavior and interaction within cyberspace, this virtual world may be seen as the ultimate version of the backstage setting. No working consensus is ever needed, and the user must live up to a single set of social standards - her own. Thus, the potential for subverting the long indoctrinated rules of social interaction may entice users to enter cyberspace and use it like a backstage area, that is, as Talbott maintains, with little conscious thought given to their actions.

 

The Consequences of Lowered Consciousness

More importantly, the consequences of this state of lowered consciousness need clarification. The Holland piece posits that in resultant, behavior in cyberspace is regressive, that is, in psychoanalytic terms, relating back to earlier, more primitive states of desire in which one was not so reticent to express constitutional urges. This notion appears consistent with traditional Freudian logic, and utilizing such a dialectic allows for specific hypotheses regarding the effects that cyberspace might elicit in the user.

Freud, like Goffman, also maintains that existence in the social world implies a variety of behavioral inhibitions. In Civilization and its Discontents, however, he is much more explicit in his descriptions, explanations, and predictions regarding these constraints. For Freud, the existential human experience is inherently disastrous. Unhappiness, caused by bodily suffering, natural causes, and through our interrelations with others, is inevitable. The latter source is by far the most damaging to one's contentedness (1991, p.264).

The term "interrelations with others" is intentionally cryptic since it is meant to encompass such a wide range of social relations. At its base Freud points to the necessary overall social order created by civilization to coerce the innately barbarous tendencies of humankind into passive submission. Indeed, Freud is direct in his position that, "man is a wolf to man," for under no restraint, humans are beasts of primal proportions: careless, blinded by aggression, hostility, hate, and an insatiable desire for sex (1991, p.282)[9]. In consequence, the continuance of civilization depends upon the retardation of such urges, leaving humankind repressed, oppressed, and unhappy; we barter a sense of happiness for a sense of security, dooming the psyche to a perpetual state of malcontent.

The heart of this paradigm is the pleasure principle, as Freud first conceived: "we have no hesitation in assuming that the course taken by mental events is automatically regulated by the avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure." (1991a, p.218) This conceptualization in bare form, however, proved theoretically problematic for Freud, as there appeared to be a few instances where mental events did not seem to be regulated by this model. Most notably, in traumatic neuroses, following the severe environmental stresses of war or natural disaster, grisly events from the past would reoccur in patients' dreams, productive of nothing but further anxiety (Freud, 1991a p.223). Additionally, Freud commonly noted that children often exhibited a compulsion to symbolically reenact past situations the child could not tolerate, re-invoking distress (1991a p.225).

As a result, in 1920 Freud published Beyond the Pleasure Principle, promulgating a notion of a universal human compulsion to repeat. Where the repetition dealt with situations of pleasure, the pleasure principle was congruous with the nascent theory. However, for cases such as traumatic neuroses, where the repetition seemed illogically directed toward unpleasure, Freud suggested the existence of a basic instinct of self-destruction - Thanatos, or the death instinct (1991a, p.244). The death instinct was defined as a drive commonly encountered in nature to reinstate the former state of affairs, but in this case, the ultimate aim was the return of organic or living matter to its unorganized state; life was seen as in constant preparation for death, with its own instinctual drive towards this end (Freud, 1991a p.244).

The notion of the death instinct would finalize Freud's quest to establish the instinctual life of humanity. With it, the libidinal conception was enlarged and magnified in order to maintain instinctual balance, renamed Eros or the life instinct (formerly called the self-preservation instinct), and included the dual desires for sex and survival (1991a, p.259).

Through all of the instinctual vicissitudes, at base the innate desire for pleasure coincides with the expiation of the most basic drives, sex (as a component of Eros) and aggression (Thantos directed externally). It is through the stunting of these specific forces that society inflicts its most detrimental effects on the individual. Along with the repression of the Oedipus Complex, the suppression of sexual and aggressive drives compose the diathesis for the eventual stresses of daily life which may catalyze a full-blown neurosis. For, in relation to the Golden Rule, staving off aggression, Freud states that, "nothing runs so strongly counter to the original nature of man". (1991, p.303) Additionally, Freud coins the construct of marital monogamy, obliterating our sexual nature, as "the most drastic mutilation which man's erotic life has in all time experienced"[10]. (1991, p.293)

 

Sublimation

As a result, humankind attempts to satisfy such passions through tame and erotically decharged avenues that are sanctioned by society. These cloaked escapades may take a variety of forms, often occurring in a backstage environment, or through useful work, such as a cardiologist unconsciously delighting in every slice of her scalpel. Freud denotes such activities "sublimations" or acts which "change both the aim and object of an instinct so that what was originally a sexual or aggressive instinct finds some achievement which is no longer sexual or aggressive but has a higher social valuation." (Brown, 1959, p.138)

Theorists comment that Freud is at best ambivalent regarding the use of sublimation, many suggesting that the concept represents a fundamental confusion in his theory (Brown, 1959, p.139). For, the overarching notion of sublimation is somewhat of an ideational conundrum. Freud posits two distinct forms of sublimation: one, that of higher intellectual work for the talented few, and two, manual labor for the masses. The second case accounts for the structural foundations of civilization. Unfortunately, even though each case allows for a partial escape from cultural repression, both instances turn centrally upon the deflection of a very specific visceral craving, thus both involve repression, and neither is ultimately therapeutic. Even Freud's detailed analysis of the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, a man of unparalleled intellectual accomplishment, concludes that his nearly perfect instances of sublimation are no match for the socially induced repression of instincts (Gay, 1989).

A decrease in the cultural state of repression, or the direct fulfillment of instincts, however, would result in a catastrophic return to nonculture, a reincarnation of cave times. As a result, Herbert Marcuse, in Eros and Civilization, investigates the potential for a manner of sublimation circumventing the repression inflicted by civilization without destroying its core establishments in the process. As defined by Marcuse, a non repressive sublimation would entail an "instinct not deflected from its aim; it is gratified in activities and relations that are not sexual or aggressive in the sense of organized genital sexuality and yet are libidinal and erotic." (1966, p.208) Thus, a non repressive sublimated urge must ultimately deny the individual the direct id impulse, yet in turn uncover an avenue for sexual or aggressive satisfaction so similar to the actual impulse that the desire is sated.

Marcuse discusses various models in which non repressive sublimation might exist. Platonic thought, for example, teaches that true knowledge of the spiritual and physical world can gratify all instinctual desires; spiritual procreation is as sexually gratifying as physical procreation (1966, p.211). Others, like Fourier, have insisted that a mutation of the construct of work might allow humans to fulfill socially useful work while concurrently releasing libidinal forces. That is, through the creation of sexually and aggressively charged occupations (1966, p.217).

In all, it is clear that Freud would have thought Marcuse's five attempts to unearth a non repressive form of sublimation utter blasphemy. All include the rather glaring stipulation that the sublimated act is greatly removed from the original impulse. Truly, in terms of instinctual impulses, Freud does not invoke hyperbole when he specifies that one's neighbor is a:

"sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture him, and to kill him." (1990, p.302)

 

Based on that description, it is unlikely Platonic knowledge or erotic work could satisfy any instinct fully.

Freud himself offers little help to Marcuse, never promulgating an adequate description of a society filled with both individual happiness and smoothly running civilized structures. That stated, there is at least vague evidence to suggest that the state of the individual in modern culture may be salvageable. At base, Marcuse maintains that the fact that the "reality principle[11] has to be reestablished continually… indicates that its triumph over the pleasure principle is never complete and not secure." (1966, p.15) Moreover, Freud contends that human progress tends toward a turning point in the nature of the instincts, and importantly, this change may occur at the height of civilization (1966, p.15).

What would constitute this societal apex is never clearly explicated, but there is reason to assume that its appearance might coincide with giant technological advance[12]. From a psychoanalytic perspective, it appears clear that on a broad level, technology is anathema to repression. Marcuse notes that, in theory, technology can reduce repression by decreasing working hours, accounting for an overall sense of timeless reality. Since timelessness is associated with the logic of the unconscious, advanced machinery might play a role in amplifying our awareness of it, partially fulfilling the major therapeutic goal of psychoanalysis. Ideally, technology might obliterate the necessity for work in any regard, tools taking the place of the laboring masses (1966, p.231).

Most directly, Norman Brown, a noted neoFreudian, makes a very potent claim, suggesting that it is specifically technology which plays the key causal role in mediating levels of individual repression through its ability to provoke projections from the unconscious: "cultures therefore differ from each other not in the content of the repressed - which consists always in the archetypal fantasies generated by the universal nature of human infancy - but in the various kinds and levels of the return of the repressed in projections made possible by various kinds and levels of… technology." (1959, p.171)

 

Cyberspace as a vehicle for Non Repressive Sublimation

If Holland is correct in stating that humans regress to primitive periods of consciousness in cyberspace, if Talbott is accurate in his assumption that cyberspace behavior is automatic and grounded in instincts, and if humans do use cyberspace as somewhat of a "backroom" as described by Goffman, then a strong argument can be made that computers and video games are potent vehicles for sublimation. And judging from Turkle's accounts of heavy computer users experiencing a literal melding of physical and cyber reality, clearly, this is a very special and powerful form of sublimation.

An explanation of that fact must incorporate the notion of fantasy. Holland posits in his piece that humans project oral and phallic fantasies into cyberspace, yet, one need not be so specific in describing the dreamlike elements of cyberspace. When a young boy plays a hyperactive frog in a MUD, when a teenage girl enters a chatroom as a college male struggling with his sexuality, and when anyone enters the mysterious world of the video game Riven or the ragingly violent maze that composes the game Doom, she is clearly enveloped in fantasy.

In psychoanalytic terms, this is of strong import. For Freud, fantasy plays a key function in the mental health of the individual; it is the bridge yoking the deepest contents of the unconscious with the conscious experience, a partial reprieve from the repressive nature of society (Marcuse, 1966, p.141). It is a product of primary process, an illogical grammar of primal, instinctual thought normally disallowed by the ego, yet now experienced through lower awareness. Additionally, fantasies carry with them an "omnipotence of thoughts" such that the fantasizer can "neglect the distinction between [reality] and fantasy." (Freud, 1986, p.548) Thus, the "barely intended logic contaminated by wishes," suggested by Talbott, and the statements of Turkle's computer users who psychologically inhabit various cyberworlds, can be explained through this concept of fantasy.

Moreover, there appears to be a deep connection between those intensely involved in cyberspace and the psychoanalytic notion of the artist. For, the artist actively embodies a world of fantasy while creating her work. The artist practices what Marcuse coins "The Great Refusal", renouncing societal demands in return for a new world of her own created by their unconscious (1966, p.149). Thus, both the artist and the "cybercadet" live in worlds of fantasy, deconstructing and constructing parts of self. Users spending upwards of one hundred hours a week in cyberspace can also be seen as staging their own Great Refusal from the physical world. In addition, Brown describes the artist as "carry[ing] strange customs and demands, (1959, p.56) just as Turkle notes that video game players "participate in a form of esoteric knowledge…a closed world of references, cross-references, and code." (1995, p.67) In cyberspace, all can be artists, recreating the unconscious through virtual design.

In total, if it is granted that the dweller of cyberspace engages in a display of interactive and visible fantasy -- Turkle's users certainly do not view cyberspace as a mere tool or toy -- then cyberspace has granted users and gamers unbelievably vivid access to into their unconscious. For, in cyberspace, one may torture, mutilate, kill, and sexually exploit one's neighbor in virtual form, as Freud suggests our unconscious compels. In turn, psychoanalytic theory suggests that fantasies of this intense nature can create a psychical reality of sorts - instinctual urges are fulfilled directly as cyber-reality melds with physical reality, as Turkle has already described. As an ultimate result of this realistic fulfillment of sexual and aggressive drives, it is here posited that cyberspace, even in its currently nascent form, is the first ever concrete vehicle for non repressive sublimation. Fulfilling Marcuse's definition perfectly, the instinct is not deflected from its aim but gratified in activities that although are not sexual or aggressive in an organized, genital way, are nevertheless realistically libidinal and erotic.

 

Turkle and Talbott Revisited

The above logic can help reconcile much of what has been theorized regarding the self in cyberspace. For, if in fact cyberspace is a potential gateway into the unconscious through in-roads such as fantasy and a lack of social constraints, then in stunning fashion, the ego is acquainted with the id in very direct ways. In this sense, conscious thought touches and manipulates unconscious thought - the socially constructed and restrained self is introduced to the true inner unconscious self as instincts are released freely, thereby unifying the ego and the id, capturing a truly integrated identity. Thus, Talbott is correct in surmising that activity in cyberspace instinctual and controlled by previously unacknowledged wishes, Holland is accurate noting the regression to primitive behavior, and Turkle is exacting in suggesting that humans role play with different aspects of identity in cyberspace. However, Talbott and Turkle's conceptualization of a shattered or postmodern self is utterly misguided. For, by gaining access to the desires and activities of the unconscious, identity is fundamentally unified. In cyberspace, the users Turkle describes are not multiple actors, but are in fact typecast in their true role; they do not lose themselves, but find the one veritable self locked deep within - that of the unconscious self, with all of its Freudian connotations. In total, as was once encapsulated as the goal of all psychoanalytic treatment: "Where id was, there shall ego be." (Freud, 1991b) Thus, through a psychoanalytic reexamination, the theoretical conflict between the ideologies of Talbott and Turkle may be reconciled, and their conclusions reformulated.

 

Rapprochement with Turkle - The Consequences of Typicality

In complete fairness to Turkle, her greatest error may simply exist in the misidentification of her subject population. For, the users she quotes are by and large not representative of the typical frequenter of cyberspace. Indeed, the current state of the frankly ungainly computer interface does not lend itself to the awesome psychodynamic revolution delineated here and experienced by the subjects in her book - most computer users, even relatively heavy cyberspace users, do not report the monumental melding of the virtual and the physical as delineated in Life on the Screen, though, granted, as the interface improves, this phenomenon may become more common. In this regard, many of those quoted in Life on the Screen lie at the extreme end of a continuum of intensity of cyberspace involvement - they are unique and anomalous in their ability to use cyberspace directly as a way to fulfill psychodynamic needs, due in great part to the role of fantasy.

By missing this point of great psychoanalytic significance, Turkle fundamentally errors by ascribing postmodern grammar to notions of identity and the self, stating, "life on the screen is without origin and foundation" (1995, p.47), when in fact, as is postulated here, through fantasy, life on the screen originates from the most primal, essential, and axiomatic foundation of self -- the unconscious.

Of key issue here is the fact that Turkle contends the psychologically ameliorative qualities of cyberspace are accessed via intense and realistic role playing. This may be entirely true, yet it seems clear her subject population has patently outstretched what could be realistically expected to be psychologically gained out of mere role playing - a more detailed therapeutic hypothesis has been promulgated here. Instead, Turkle's conception may be germane to more typical users of cyberspace, those users who frequently enter MUDs, play video games, and interact in chat rooms, yet do so for twenty or thirty hours a week instead of over one hundred. These moderate users are intimately involved in their on-line activities, yet do not claim their virtual windows are more real than their physical counterparts. Instead, they use cyberspace to invent a variety of alternate and existentially helpful and healthy core selves, integrating them into their real world lives. They are able to try out divergent personae in the world of the virtual, becoming someone they cannot be in real life. Alternatively, they may practice parts of their identity that are constrained in the physical world. For numerous reasons, perhaps an inability to reach the unconscious by internalizing a fantasy completely, or simply being unable to break free entirely from societal constraints, they have not reached a level of non repressive sublimation, and their experiences are less therapeutic in a psychoanalytic sense -- instead these users mirror the kinds of experiences Turkle describes.

Life on the Screen serves a solid foundation for unearthing a typical user relationship with cyberspace[13], yet lacks explanatory and descriptive depth in the cases of extremely heavy users, such as those included within its pages, and critically analyzed here.

 

The Adolescent in Cyberspace

In no instance does cyberspace play a more salient role in the development of the individual than during adolescence[14]. And clearly, as the video game market has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar industry through the marketing of products directed at this single population, it is important to understand from an adolescent theory standpoint why so many adolescents have such intense relationships with this aspect of cyberspace.

An obvious starting point is the work of Erik Erikson, a noted psychosocial developmental theorist. Erikson conceives that the perpetual growth of identity occurs as a life-long series of eight stages. Each stage is marked by a particular psychosocial crisis the individual must overcome to gain the necessary tools to be able to effectively cope with the subsequent challenge. If the crisis is not vanquished, later on the individual will face the possibility of serious psychological impairment (Erikson, 1950).

The psychosocial crisis facing the developing adolescent is one of identity versus role confusion. Faced with the massive physiological changes of puberty, in combination with the realization that adulthood is on the horizon, the adolescent must reevaluate the self by accepting or rejecting aspects which had become part of the self schema during childhood, playing out new roles through experimentation, in turn creating a uniquely integrated identity concept (Erikson, 1950, p.261)

Clearly, this is no minor process. The nascent adolescent must "refight many of the battles of earlier years…integrating all identifications with the vicissitudes of the libido, with the aptitudes developed out of endowment, and with the opportunities offered in social roles." (Erikson, 1950, p.261) If the individual emerges unscathed from this excavation and construction of self, she will be "at home in [her] body, [having] a sense of knowing where [she] is going, and an inner assuredness of anticipated recognition." (Erikson, 1968, p.165)

 

Role of Technology in Adolescence

There is much evidence to suggest that cyberspace may play a large role in this important integrative process. For one, Erikson gives reason to believe that youths will actively seek out forms of technology to help them negotiate this crisis. He states that adolescents will utilize self-chosen therapies to help them unify a sense of self, and often, those therapies are technologically grounded (1968, p.131). For, what is exciting and attractive to the youth is the "technological trend seemingly promising all that youthful vitality could ask for." (Erikson, 1968, p. 129) That youthful vitality, asserts Erikson, will follow whatever gives free scope and imagination to their aspirations (p.129), and following, "adolescence is least stormy in that segment of youth which is gifted and well trained in the pursuit of expanding technological trends." (1969, p. 130) Surely, few technological achievements expand as quickly or offer the breadth of imaginative possibilities as does cyberspace.

Secondly, it appears cyberspace may offer a unique outlet to ameliorate a seeming contradiction in theory in this stage of development, and thus would be an attractive playspace. For, Erikson maintains that a critical aspect of adolescent development is the psychosocial moratorium, a time in which society grants the young adult a period of delay, such that she is free to experiment with a variety of roles, finding a unique niche both in terms of the surrounding culture and within herself (1968, p.157). Erikson's description of the moratorium connotes a fluid play space involving "free role experimentation", "a delay of adult commitments", and "provocative playfulness"(1968, p. 157). However, a close investigation reveals that very little of the adolescent's development in this stage is not directly mediated by societal constraints and expectations - a notion directly reminiscent of the work of both Freud and Goffman.

Indeed, Erikson posits that "social systems enter into the fiber of the next generation and attempt to absorb…their lifeblood." (1968, p. 134) Tentative apprenticeships and adventures within the moratorium are encouraged, but only if they are "in line with society's values" (1968, p.157). Moreover, the finalized identity realized by the youth must ultimately be a configuration of roles dependent upon acceptance by others; the degree of incorporation of the hierarchy of expectations thrust upon the youth in childhood will be tested at the conclusion of this moratorium (Erikson, 1968, p.159). Additionally, as Csikszentmihalyi suggests, society serves to structure consciousness during adolescence - the instincts, values, and habits of the youth must be shaped surreptitiously (1984, p.13).

The young adult who cannot negotiate this apparent contradiction of "restrained freedom" may fall into what Erikson coins a period of severe identity confusion, a pathology marked by identity diffusion, taking a number of forms. For example, a youth might experience problems in intimacy or have an inability to concentrate on work if she fails to achieve a relatively integrated and socially acceptable identity during this period. Additionally, she may take on a negative identity, repudiating the permissible identifications and roles presented by her family and greater society (1968, p.165-173).

With cyberspace, however, it becomes tenable that a youth might pass though the stage of identity versus role confusion while circumventing the paradoxical nature of the moratorium. For, cyberspace may serve as a developmental space of freedom from societal constraints, offering a novel moratorium for youth in which the process of "guided freedom" is bypassed. In cyberspace, identities and roles may be experimentally manipulated infinitely and with impunity - in Erikson's terms, the adolescent can be the "big boy" and the "little boy" at the same time, virtually and between windows, whereas in physical space such an impossible desire might lead to psychic turmoil and confusion (1968, p.160). As he notes, "man is a creature who desires to readjust himself and his environments according to his own inventions," one is reminded that a cyber-reality offers absolute freedom to readjust personal selves and environments (1968, p. 233).

 

The Adolescent Self in Cyberspace - Shattered or Whole

Even still, this is not to say that the adolescent cyber-moratorium cannot ultimately also achieve the integrated identity Erikson believes is the ultimate goal of this stage. In fact, there is reason to believe that cyberspace serves as a powerful facilitator of this ultimate end, a notion vaguely predicted by Erikson a full twenty-five years prior to the public release of the Internet. For, Erikson admits quite bluntly that "only a tour de force" can integrate all of the roles one takes on during adolescence; surpassing this stage successfully, that is, with unity, is no small feat. More pointedly, he maintains that "the utopia of our own era predicts that man will be one species in one world, with a universal technological identity[15] to replace the illusory pseudo-identities which have divided him." (1968, p.241) With that profound statement, Erikson seems to foreshadow the advent of a technology capable of unifying the fundamental identities of all. In modern terms, one may take that premonition to suggest the coming of cyberspace, unifying the "pseudo-identities" of the moratorium into a distinct cyber-reality of a centered self.

 

Piaget

Additionally, with adolescence comes the advent of sufficient cognitive capacity to allow the individual to make use of the integrative effects of cyberspace. From a Piagetian perspective, this stage of cognition is classed Formal Operations, characterized by the ability to "operate on operations". In more specific terms, three major capabilities arise: reasoning with abstract possibilities, hypothetico-deductive reasoning, and propositional thought (Bornstein and Lamb, 1999, p.283).

For, while the pre-adolescent of the previous, concrete-operational stage search for solutions to conceptual problems by manipulating existing data to formulate one real answer, formal-operational adolescents reverse the process, starting with many hypothetical solutions and progressing to a final accurate end. Thus, they operate within the realm of abstract possibility, bypassing the reality of the tangible.

Additionally, formal-operational thinkers can wrestle with conceptual problems with novel cognitive tools. Using hypothetico-deductive reasoning, adolescents of this stage can inspect given data, hypothesize a logically correct explanation, deduce whether it can occur in reality, and finally test that theory to see whether their predictions are tenable. The adolescent is able to repeat the process indefinately if any of the steps are incomplete, analyzing and reanalyzing potential obstacles which may have obviated a correct hypothesis (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 1993).

Finally, propositional thought occurring under the auspices of formal operations marks a developmental advance over the propositional thinking of earlier years. The concrete operational individual utilizes intrapropositional thinking, considering propositions as single entities and testing each one individually against reality. In this manner she searches only for a factual relation between a single proposition and a single reality. The formal operational thinker, however, advances this process a step further, reasoning about the logical relations that exist between two or more propositions, a more abstract form of reasoning Piaget called interpropositional thought (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 1993).

Although much of Piaget's critique of adolescent thought has been empirically discounted (see Fischer & Bidell, 1991; Gottfried, 1984), an adequate successor in the theoretical vein has not surfaced. As a result, Piagetian development still serves as a figurative benchmark in defining the thinking associated with the adolescent life stage of Identity versus Role Confusion. In general terms, the adolescent can now become engrossed in systematic theoretical speculation on such topics as the merits of a religious sect or a potential Congressional act. She has the skills to infer, predict, and idealize, able and willing to follow a belief to its ultimate conclusion, manipulating and toying with different abstract modes of thought (Solso, 1991, p.378).

These skills transform one's relationship with cyberspace. The ultimate unification of a sense of self, either through Erikson's notion of a fully integrated identity or through the close encounters with the unconscious as suggested here, must involve one's ability to transcend the phenomenal world and exist fluidly within the realm of the fantastic. Indeed, in order for video games or Web applications to have any trace of a reflexive effect, the user must have the capacity not only to think abstractly, but to be able to existentially enter the virtual worlds of cyberspace, which after all, are little more than Piagetian abstractions of potential realities - of a tangible nature. Formal operational thought allows the user to uproot the physical self and replace it with such iterations of virtual identities, capturing fantasy safely within cyberspace.

 

Cyberspace and the Adolescent Demography of video games

If cyberspace truly is the attractive and developmentally helpful entity purported here, those to which it is most alluring and beneficial, that is adolescents, will also be the individuals utilizing it. Although Peter Main of Nintendo of America has noted that video game marketing targets those aged 8 to 24, a range so wide it seems to be incorporating children and adults along with the adolescent population, (Provenzo, 1991, p.14) Erikson has asserted that as technology advances, the length of adolescence will also increase, thus that age range may in fact be coinciding with the modern day period of adolescence (1968, p. 128). In addition, Erikson suggests that as the experiences of the adolescent expand, the moratorium may continue up to age twenty-four or twenty-five (1968, p. 236). Certainly, the unique experiences available over cyberspace could have this lengthening effect, thus it does appear that the 8 to 24 game market targeted most heavily, may be corresponding with the current period of adolescence.

 

Gender Issues and Video Games

To this point, none of the presented theorists focus much concern on the role of gender in their area of exposition, each with varying rationales. Piaget utilized solely male subjects in his research, believing the results to extrapolate to the missing sex. Erikson's theory of identity highlights the masculine process in stating that the female finds her ultimate identity not by exploring the external world, pursuing beliefs and inner desires like the male, but by default as "whatever her work career" when she "commits herself to the love of a stranger and to the care to be given to his offspring." (1968, p. 283)

However, with regard to cyberspace, the great disparity between male and female usage requires a more detailed investigation into the antecedents of the situation. As recently as this year, just such an in-depth project was carried out by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), co-chaired by Sherry Turkle and Patricia Dennis (2000). Entitled, Tech Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age, the report expresses a great deal of concern regarding the ways most girls' relate to the present "computer culture", and reciprocally, how their relations contribute to stereotypes which assume females and computers are diametrically opposed. As an account from the report asserts, the computer itself is not the problem, but the fact that its use is encouraged through narrow and poorly defined avenues.

As a result, girls are channeled into computer applications which may be superficially useful, but are not indicative of true computer fluency. In all, the report stresses that much needs to be done to refocus the evolution of computer culture. For, females' relationship to the technology is not isolated to their gender but is symptomatic of a much more widespread paradigm in which many others are wrongly and negatively labeled as "computer-phobic", with unfortunate consequences.

 

"Girls have reservations about the computer culture—and with good reason. [They] are concerned about the passivity of their interactions with the computer as a "tool" and they dislike narrowly and technically focused programming classes. Too often, these concerns are dismissed as symptoms of anxiety or incompetence that will diminish once girls "catch up" with the technology. In some important ways, the computer culture would do well to catch up with the girls. In other words, girls are pointing to important deficits in the technology and the culture in which it is embedded that need to be integrated into our general thinking about computers and education. Indeed, girls' critiques resonate with the concerns of a much larger population of reticent users. Girls' legitimate concerns should focus our attention on changing the software, the way computer science is taught, and the goals we have for using computer technology."

 

More specifically, the world of video gaming is the key area of concern, because, as posited by Greenfield and Cocking (1996), video games are the entryway into greater cyberspace and computer usage as a whole. If females are not involved in video games, they may be the forgotten participants of the computer revolution, and more potently, lose out on the potential effects of cyberspace on the self.

Much has been hypothesized and researched regarding the sex disparity in the gaming industry. In quantitative terms, Kubey and Larson (1990) reported that eighty-six percent of video game playing among nine to sixteen-year-olds was done by boys, and Kinder (1996) found that ninety percent of the burgeoning video game magazine market was composed of male readers.

In response, Brown et al. (1997) assert that the sex differences are due to the stereotypically masculine way video games are viewed by both boys and girls, making them inconsistent with females' gender schemas, and as a result, less interesting, less rewarding, and possibly threatening. Accordingly, Nelson and Cooper (1989) overwhelmingly found that both boys and girls fundamentally believed that video games were a solely male domain. More recently, a study by Funk and Buchman (1996) on fourth and fifth graders' perceptions of video games reported that significantly more boys than girls agreed with the statements: "if a boy doesn't like video games, he's not very cool", and "popular boys usually play video games." More pointedly, almost seventy percent of both sexes agreed that a girl could not be popular and also play video games. Thus, the authors concluded that children evaluate the acceptability of game playing in congruence with common gender stereotypes, and when these stereotypes are accepted, social pressure works against the violation of resulting social norms.

Matina Horner (1970) has studied such a model and labels the barrier that exists for women to act in stereotypically male areas the "motive to avoid success". She suggests that in such an arena, social rejection, estrangement, and a loss of femininity will follow achievement by a woman. As a result, the activity of all women in that area will be inhibited and only reactivated if social acceptability is later stressed. Her paradigm is borne out empirically by verbal TAT studies (Horner, 1968). When presented with the cue, "After first-term finals, Anne finds herself at the top of her medical school class," almost seventy percent of the female subjects exhibited a fear of success by formulating stories for Anne involving subsequent social rejection, her lack of femininity and attractiveness, and Anne's dishonorable road to the head of the class. Not surprisingly, therefore, in relation to video games, Funk and Buchman (1986) report that increases in girls' video game proficiency and playing time was negatively correlated with self-esteem and positive self-concept.

Secondly, Brown et al. (1997) also suggest that the video game gender discrepancy may be due to the inability of women to connect with, be interested in, and find rewarding the themes permeating almost the entire video game market. In short, Provenzo notes that the themes prevalent in video games amplify anti-women values, specifically, dependency upon men, female victimization, and characters acted upon, rather than initiating action (1991, p.116).

These themes are easily observed. In 1991, Provenzo studied the forty-seven most popular video games on the commercial market for thematic consistencies. Of the forty-seven game covers, 115 male and nine female characters were identified, a ratio of almost fourteen to one. Twenty of the males and none of the females were in dominant poses, in fact, a third of the females were pictured in submissive positions in relation to other males, for instance being captured from behind or carried in a man's arms. A full thirty percent of the games contained scenarios in which women were kidnapped or had to be rescued as the major objective of the game, an astounding fact considering eleven of the forty-seven games were sports related. In no instance did a man ever need to be rescued or aided by a female character. More potently, the female characters that were existent in the video games studied were hardly positive female role models. Provenzo describes this scene on the cover of the Nintendo game Double Dragon II:

"the game portrays Marian, Billy's kidnapped girlfriend, clutching him as he supports her with his hand wrapped around the small of her back. His other arm is entwined with a whip that he is tearing out of the hands of a woman who has enormous breasts and a punk "rooster crest" hairdo. Marian is wearing high heels, her mini-dress in shreds, showing the curvaceous shape of her thighs and buttocks. Her tank top is ripped at the bottom, revealing her midriff and her gently sloping breasts, which are pressed against Billy's muscular chest. Her facial expression exudes an air of determination as she is held in the arms of her savior Billy." (1991, p. 104)

 

Even the recent attempts to create strong female protagonists in video games, for instance Lara Croft in the game Tombraider, reach farcical proportions as the women seem to be designed to look like men with breasts. Notes Michelle Goulet, a webeditor for Game Girlz, a site devoted to female gamers, "Respecting the female characters is hard when they look like strippers with guns and seem to be nothing more than an erection waiting to happen." (Cassell, 1998, p.341)

Indeed, it is clear game marketers cater to a single gender. States Lee Caraher, president of Sega Inc., a major video game manufacturer: "we don't do any girl marketing...I haven't seen a girls' game out there yet." (Cassell, 1998, p.194) In turn, most video games focus on a single theme: violence. Of the forty-seven games studied by Provenzo, only seven did not have violence as their major theme. Many of the games went to great lengths to incorporate violence in normally illogical manners. For instance, in the hockey game, Blades of Steel, the player is penalized for not fighting during play - it seems here the sports of boxing and hockey have been surrepticiously melded (1991, p.126-127) Moreover, the games of recent years seem to focus on more intensely realistic and aggressive themes than ever before. Recent additions to the gaming cannon include the game Postal (Running with Scissors Inc.) in which one plays a disgruntled postal worker returning for bloody revenge at a company meeting, and the game Blood (GT Interactive) which ran an ad in the May 1997 issue of "Computer Gaming World" picturing only a bathtub of blood.

Much empirical evidence supports the fact that violence in video games is antithetical to the desires of women. Malone (1981) found that girls did not like a video game when an aggressive fantasy theme was added to it compared to the same game without the violence, whereas the opposite effect was found for boys. Malone also reported that girls found the violence in video games to be boring and requiring no thought, thus unappealing. Physiologically, Cooper et al. (1990) wrote that girls reported significant stress in response to games with themes of shooting and killing. More generally, in 1979, Ahlgren and Johnson found that girls enjoyed activities involving cooperation, and not aggression, a desire running contrary to the entire gaming industry. That notion is supported by Gilligan (1982, p.10) who observed that in play situations girls will most often subordinate the game for the continuance of the relationships of those involved - aggression never takes precedence over cooperation. Moreover, a remarkable study by Kafai (1996) had boys and girls create their "perfect video game." Kafai reported that the games girls' created were most likely to involve turn taking, to utilize verbal skills in cooperative formats, and to take place in a familiar setting, focusing on realistic goals. Boys, however, created games which involved fantasy settings and characters taken from films and other media (such as Darth Vadar) performing aggressive, habitual, rote actions. Kafai concluded that girls' games focused largely on the destination of the game, while boys' version focused more on the journey toward the goal. It appeared that girls wanted to make social and emotional discoveries they could apply to their sense of self and to real world settings.

Unfortunately, few games incorporate the aspects which Kafai's study would suggest would make games appealing to girls. Provenzo posits that a major deficiency in most modern games is their utter lack of social and relational realism - characters seldom interact on anything more than a pre-scripted level. Even the two most popular products for girls in recent years, Barbie Fashion Designer and McKenzie & Company, focus respectively on getting dressed up and procuring a boyfriend, thus are not really even video games. According to Kinder (1996), the game industry has equated action and enjoyment with violence, and therefore games lacking aggression are not even researched for production. As a result, a psychological paradox exists whereby game manufactures are unable to create "girl games" without catering to radical gender stereotypes, for instance games with backgrounds consisting only of pink flowers[16]. Such games have not taken hold according to any gaming demographic (Cassell, 1998, p.73).

Thus, with the current state of video games, it seems clear why this aspect of cyberspace is off-limits to most females. It appears that just as Carol Gilligan has asserted that psychology has silenced the truth of women's experience, a "territory where violence is rare and relationships appear safe (1982, p.62)", the video gaming industry has silenced women once again, this time in relation to the cyberspace experience by creating a technological territory where violence is ubiquitous and relationships are nonexistent, in turn shunning this important socialization into cyberspace.

Perhaps more importantly, Provenzo cautions that if gaming industry does not alter the themes in games that are currently prevalent, deleterious developmental effects on girls could follow, for, "images formed from mediated percepts become part of woman's conception of herself." (1991, p.100) More generally, he chides that "video games and their content represent symbolic universes that are spontaneously consented to by the general population; [they] are instrumentalities through which the child's understanding of her culture is mediated." (1991, p.100)

A third and final explanation for the video gaming gender discrepancy is that due either to practice or innate factors, females are less skilled or react in physiologically different ways towards video games, making them less rewarding (Brown et al., 1997). A Brown et al. study concluded that even when practice was controlled, on average males still performed better in a basic video game performance task. The experimenters also manipulated levels of anxiety by allowing a variety of audience members in the playing area, yet the results never deviated. Brown et al. suggested that the generally better spatial ability and perceptual motor skills in males contributed largely to their results, for many (see Kuhlman & Beitel, 1991; McClurg & Chaille, 1987) have found that video game performance is highly correlated with perceptual and spatial acuity. In physiological terms, Murphy et al. (1988) reported that females exhibit greater blood pressure and heart rate while engaged in video game activities, and interestingly, Mazur et al. (1997) found that male testosterone levels increased prior to video game competition, and raised to an even greater level after a positive video game performance, while females testosterone levels decreased during all aspects of video game play, regardless of outcome. It is believed that testosterone is related to the desire to compete, thus males may be intrinsically greater pulled toward video game situations. In all, however, it is unclear why poor performance necessarily relates to an aversion to video game playing.

The above, however, is not to suggest that females who are intensely involved in the video gaming world do not exist. Such an assumption would constitute a great insult to the cadre of women who give life to the small but extremely active collection of video gaming web sites devoted solely to female game players. To be sure, these women are acutely aware their past-time of choice constitutes a marked minority group within cyberspace, but based on the content of sites such as GameGirlz (http://www.gamegirlz.com/) and QuakeGirlz (http://www.qgirlz.com), their unique interest evokes more pride than embarassment. Indeed, the latter site contains a link termed "Whipping BoiZ", devoted to "the males that wait on us hand and foot" and who apparently fulfill the stated "Whipping Boi Requirements", namely: "1.Doing what we say. 2. Not thinking 3. Picking up after us. 4. Bringing us gifts. 5. Kissing our ASSes." Perhaps not surprisingly, the stipulations for becoming a member of the QuakeGirlz are stringent. Members must agree to practice the game Quake with the rest of the players for three hours a week, honing their skills. Beyond this, those interested in joining must engage in assorted on-line interactions with current members to insure they will fit in with the existing group. Presumably, this activity also gives members a chance to detect if the applicant is actually female.

In all, female gaming sites evoke the feeling that members are grateful to have a voice in a world dominated by the opposite gender, and each has a story to tell. These women are as active or more actively involved in their game of choice as their male counterparts, and there is a definite awareness that this fact somehow makes them different from others of either gender, though the ways in which this difference is manifested is never explicated.

 

Gender Bending

Although there is little to suggest that a large proportion of females play video games, there is no dearth of male players who choose to play a female character within various games. Though patently widespread, this phenomenon is virtually unstudied beyond mere speculation and occasional informal interview data. Possibly the only attempt to systematically investigate video game gender bending comes from an article posted on WomenGamers.com by Kathryn Wright (2000). Wright posted a survey germane to this issue on various game discussion groups and received thirty-three responses, all from male subjects. Fifty-seven percent of the subjects reported that they played a female character within their game of choice for over fifty percent of their gaming hours, and all respondents reported they switched gender for some proportion of their gaming experience. The most common reason given for the switch dealt with its gameplay advantage, that opponents over the Internet assume the female gender is associated with a poor level of skill, thus the gender bender may take advantage of such underestimation. In addition, some argued that many games are programmed to give its female characters inherent benefits over male characters in terms of speed and agility.

In relation to games that allow for interaction with others as a female character, a quarter of the sample also reported that being female in cyberspace allowed them to explore gender issues and their ideas about masculinity and feminity. States one player "playing a female can definitely be an experiment…you can learn about the opposite gender, and yourself, and about how we perceive roles in society…by playing a female I'm trying to clarify concepts I would never have a chance to learn about in real life." Interestingly, a relatively high percentage of subjects suggested that they switched gender roles for their own aesthetic and auditory enjoyment, that "I choose female characters on the basis that they have breasts and are a lot nicer to look at. I mean, have you seen Dead or Alive 2? They bounce and everything…it's sexy to see a female killing a monster." Moreover, one subject stated: "I like female voices and the female characters generally make all kinds of cute little grunts and moans…they just sound nice."

Wright suggests that a key aspect of gender reversals within games deals with the degree to which the opposite gendered character is an extension of oneself or simply a pawn. She argues that female characters are used primarily in this latter sense for games in which little social interaction occurs, whereas for more social games the gender bend is more identifiably based within the psyche of game player. Wright supports this idea by noting that nearly all of the subjects who played games with little social interaction (twenty-seven percent of the sample) claimed that within the game they make no effort to act female. In contrast, fifty-four percent of the subjects whose primary game involved on-line chat during play stated that they attempted to take on a female persona throughout both game play and chat interactions. Finally, Wright posits she discovered that a vocal portion of the gaming population seems to believe that if a male plays as a female character, he is homosexual, noting of course that the garrulousness of a few respondents does not imply widespread acceptance of a belief. But as one person responded to Wright's initial posting for subjects: "Nobody better respond to this post. This is a roundabout method for obtaining information about homosexual Everquest gamers."

In psychoanalytic terms, the fact that the fluid nature of cyberspace lends itself to rampant gender bending would be predicted. Freud's 1933 essay "Femininity" clarified his firm belief in the intrinsic bisexuality of human nature, noting that "the proportion in which masculine and feminine are mixed in an individual is subject to quite considerable fluctuations." (1991b, p. 414) Clearly cyberspace offers the opportunity for one to exploit this heterogeneity of sexuality. In contrast, for Turkle, commonplace reversals of gender within the realm of cyberspace highlights "the chance to discover that for both sexes, gender is constructed." (1995, p.223) Supporting this point she uses the experiences of gender swappers such as Garrett who asserts his impetus for playing a woman in a MUD is that "I wanted to see what the differences felt like. I wanted to be collaborative and helpful, and I thought it would be easier as a female. I wanted to be something new…the canonically female way of communicating was more productive than the male." (1995, p.216)

 

Video games and aggression

Due in large part to public fears and the media's portrayal of violence in video games, the largest cannon of video game research attempts to discover if intense involvement with virtual violence begets later real world violence, or if the violence in video games is in any sense cathartic. Those with an opinion on the issue, usually of the former persuasion, have been vocal. In the Philippines, former President Ferdinand Marcos called video games a "destructive social bandit", instituting a nationwide ban on all games that lasted throughout the early 1980s (Provenzo, 1991, p.50). In 1983, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop noted that video games cause "aberrations in childhood behavior", explaining, "children are into the games, body and soul - everything is zapping the enemy. Children get to the point where when they see another child being molested by a third child, they just sit back." (Koop)

The camp asserting that the pervasive violence in video games provokes subsequence violence bases its assumption on other areas of research which have shown that observation promotes imitation. In this vein, Albert Bandura conducted the seminal study in 1961. There, Bandura and his colleagues had children observe adults at play with a rubber "Bobo" doll in either non aggressive or aggressive fashions, for instance hammering, kicking or screaming at the doll. Those subjects' exposed to the aggressive adult play almost uniformly imitated the previously seen behavior, in some cases mimicking the utterances of the adult actors. Subjects exposed to non aggressive models did not later act violently towards Bobo.

This effect is mirrored by later studies investigating the effect of television violence on future behavior. Parke et al. (1977) found that juvenile offenders shown violent films for five consecutive evenings exhibited greatly increased aggressive play behavior during the day in comparison to a group who viewed non-violent yet still exciting films. Liebert and Baron (1972) found that both boys and girls (ages 5-9) who had previously viewed film extracts with violent scenes gave more severe punishments to a pretend opponent than did children who had viewed a film of an exciting race. Recently, Wood et al. (1991) performed a meta-analytic overview of 23 studies of television aggression and found a clear increase in overall aggression after viewing aggressive material. Even longitudinally, Eron et al. (1972) tested a mixed sex sample of children for aggression at the ages of 8 and 18, finding that high aggressiveness at age 18 was related to frequent viewing of violent films at age 8.

Alternatively, some argue that video game violence is cathartic, resulting in a draining off effect, or decreased violence after play. Such an approach to video game violence is based on the psychoanalytic assumption of the existence of instinctual aggression, mentioned earlier, visualized in the form of a hydraulic model such that aggression that is continuously released through aggressive activity, rather than bottled up, will result in decreased overall aggressive tendencies. For example, Huesmann (1982) concluded that children exposed to the least violence early in life may be the most aroused in subsequent violent situations, therefore displaying the greatest future aggressiveness. In turn, competition in physical sports is seen as helpful to the individual. A proponent of this view is child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim who asserts that "through play [the child] expresses what would be hard to put into words…what he chooses to play is motivated by inner processes and desires." (Provenzo, 1991, p. 88) And just as playing with blocks will not create an architect, playing with guns or in violent game scenarios will not create an assassin. In fact, suggests Bettleheim, "playing with a toy gun can provide a useful means for discharging aggressive tendencies," and "it is the child's developing sense of humanity that motivates what seems to be mere brutality." (Provenzo, 1991, p. 90)

Few empirical reports support Bettleheim's view[17]. For one, Hinde (1960) chides theories involving catharsis as they seem to connect psychological or behavioral energy, a construct which may be studied, with psychical or instinctual energy which clearly may not. Hinde also notes that watching football matches, presumably a cathartic activity, seems to provoke aggression in opposing fans after the match. Additionally, Gabler et al. (1982) followed high school football players during and after their season and found no difference in aggressive tendencies, whereas this theory would have expected less aggression during the season.

In relation to video games, studies of aggression modeling are largely confusing and inconclusive. Suggesting that playing video games will increase later aggression, Silvern and Williamson (1987) demonstrated increased aggression and decreased prosocial behavior in 4 to 6 year olds after playing violent video games. Additionally, Shutte et al. (1988) found that in free play, children involved in an aggressive gaming condition were more violent than children who played a nonviolent game. An interview study by Provenzo repeatedly found instances of children who played violent games incorporating themes from the game into their everyday life. One six-year old referred to his teacher as "the boss" and the school's principle as "the big boss", the same terms which denote opponents in most violent games. Another child believed that what determined good or evil behavior in humans was a disk placed in one's head, an accurate model for the game he played, Mega Man II (1991, p. 92). Provenzo believes the real danger of video game violence is the paradox of intense visual realism combined with emotional separation. In the Vietnam War based game Platoon, for instance, a player may press pause at any time during the violent destruction of a Vietnamese Village, take a break, and return to the mass killings. Additionally in Platoon, killing innocent peasants is portrayed as undesirable only because it lowers one's morale rating, hardly reminiscent of Aristotelian ethics. As a result, the true deleterious effects of violence are never internalized, leading children to play out what they believe are benign actions in real life[18] (Provenzo, 1991, p. 125).

However, there are also many studies showing no link between video games and real world violence. A study by Cooper and Mackie (1986) found that after playing an aggressive video game, boys evidenced no increase in aggressive behavior during free play, and girls actually appeared more docile. Also, Graybill, (1985,1987) in two similar studies, found that the effects of violent versus nonviolent video games on the aggressive behavior of subjects were not significantly different. And Kestenbaum and Weinstein (1985) concluded that aggressive game playing had a calming effect, bluntly contending that,

"[video games] play a homeostatic role in the process of development and adaptation, rather than an inflammatory or pathogenic one. They are narcissistic guardians which are turned to during periods of developmental stress, and which provides an arena for conflict resolution in fantasy."

 

That conclusion is echoed by psychoanalyst Martin Klein who argues that video games focus largely around oral sadomasochistic fantasies of fear of engulfment, noting a game like Pac-Man in which the creature the player controls and eventually "becomes" through fantasy is "all mouth" (Provenzo, 1991, p. 56). This notion of conflict resolution through fantasy in video games clearly leans toward the earlier described notion of non repressive sublimation, although Klein and the two researchers were likely not thinking in such terms.

Personality

As yet, the issue of imitation versus catharsis has not been resolved, and a recent study by Scott (1995) may explain these equivocal results. Scott contends that most studies on the effects of violent video games were formulated with imprecise methodological forethought, as their proliferation was due mainly to public and media pressure to investigate the issue and publish results immediately. Thus, many authors have recently discounted their own research. Graybill et al. (1987) promptly admitted after their second study that the projective test they used to measure aggressive intent after gaming (the Rosenzweig Picture-Frustration Study) was not a valid measure. More potently, Scott notes that the games utilized in most studies were poor representations of the modern day gaming cannon, lacking the realism and graphic intensity of games played today. A popular game chosen for conditions of aggressive gaming in the late 1980s, for instance, was one that consisted solely of a frog catching and devouring flies with its tongue. It is difficult to comprehend how the effects of virtual "fly swatting" would provide insight into the psychic consequences of a modern day game like the previously described, Blood.

For his study, Scott acknowledged the inherently flawed reasoning behind research attempting to arrive at a general operating paradigm positing how all violent games affect all people. He contends that the essential parameters functioning in this relationship preclude vast generalizations across populations, for instance, gender, age, expressed hostility versus exhibited aggression, duration of exposure, and finally, personality. Scott suggests that the latter construct functions as the most pivotal factor mediating the effect of cyberspace on the user, and his is the only study to address this concern.

Scott had three between subject conditions differing by level of aggressive game played. The nonaggressive, control game was Tetris, involving the manipulation of geometric blocks as they fall to the screen. The moderately aggressive game was Overkill, a "space blaster" type game where one controls a space ship and must shoot at as many alien ships as possible, also maneuvering to avoid being hit. The game incorporates cries of "kill kill kill", but portrays no human characters. The highly aggressive game was Fatal Fury, a hand to hand combat game with realistic looking human characters who must use deadly martial arts to kick, punch, and head-butt computer opponents into oblivion. Blood, thumps, groans, and death accompany bodily impact. Feelings of aggression and hostility, taken before and after the ten minute gaming session, were measured with the Buss-Durkee Inventory, a global aggression questionnaire that groups aggressive intent into seven subscales. Additionally, the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ) measured the dimensions of Extroversion, Neuroticism, and Psychoticism (tough mindedness).

Although Scott hypothesized a linear increase in aggressive affect after playing the increasingly aggressive games, no such relationship occurred. The moderately aggressive game decreased feelings of aggression, and the highly aggressive game increased aggression no more than the control group. The only consistent finding was that males in the control group were considerably more aggressive after playing Tetris than the female subjects, although these men (at a chance level) had a greater base line of aggression before the game. No other significant gender or personality interactions were found. Scott did report, however, the existence of a trend in which subjects with personality scores resembling Type A individuals[19], that is, scoring highly on all three factors, showed the greatest increased aggression after game play in all three conditions. Scott concluded that if any type of game could elicit aggressive behavior, the effects would not be due to imitation but instead involve the linkage between personality traits and the sympathetic nervous system. Indeed, work by Griffiths and Dancaster (1995) reported that Type A personality game players experienced greater heart and arousal increases than players of the Type B persuasion.

In total, Scott's findings were minimal, though he maintained that individual differences are the mediating variables of greatest import in the study of the effects of video games. Warning against the overvaluation of any single video game study, he stated: "the interactions between [video game] variables are obviously complex, and glib statements relating aggression [or any other construct] to game playing seem totally unwarranted."

 

Fantasy Role Playing

No studies have taken Scott's lead and investigated other aspects of the video gaming experience as they ally with personality. The closest arena in which personality is studied in relation to gaming is in the genre of fantasy role playing games, such as the popular Dungeons and Dragons. Fantasy role playing (FRP) games are interactive, imaginative adventures taking place among a group of friends, usually seated around a table. Each player takes on the role of a character (roles may take various forms from human to animal to dwarf, etc.) in the adventure, and must act the character's part while she (or he) and other members of the group attempt to accomplish a goal orientated mission. All action, often constrained by predetermined rules (e.g. dice roles), takes place through words and fantasy, usually guided by a neutral story-teller, or Game Master. First introduced in 1974, fantasy role playing games quickly came under attack from the news media after a college student vanished and it was found he was involved in a role playing adventure group. The intense fantasy worlds were equated with the occult, suicide, and Satanic worship (Stackpole, 1990), and alarmists such as Patricia Pulling created anti-FRP groups (e.g. Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons - BADD) to educate the public about the dangers of role playing (Stackpole, 1990). Nevertheless, by 1990, 7.5 million Americans played FRP at least once a month (Buettell, 1990), and media messages purporting a link between role playing and suicide were more common than ever.[20] As a result, a small contingent of research explored the possibility of a personality rubric operating within FRP participants as it might differ from non-gamers. To date, no such model has been found.

Both Simo'n (1987) and Carroll and Carolin (1989) demonstrated only that FRP gamers scored higher on Cattall's 16PF[21] scale on factor Q1(experimenting, liberal, and freethinking) than non-gamers. DeRenard and Kline (1990) reported that gaming samples differed from non-gaming samples only in the weakened affective report of "cultural estrangement" (that is, interest in popular entertainment) and "meaninglessness". The author's suggested the latter effect was due to the strong sense of belongingness fostered by role playing groups. In addition, Abyeta and Forest (1991) found that gamers scored significantly higher than non gamers on Eysenck's EPQ in Psychoticism, though the meaning and validity of that factor is a matter for debate (see McKenzie, 1988). Finally, Douse and McManus reported data from the EPQ suggesting that FRP gamers were more introverted than non gamers.

With such modest and diverse differences characterizing gamers versus non gamers, others have examined within group personality differences. Informal reports by Yee (1999) and Mulcahy (1998) suggest that different personality types are not only attracted to different genres of role playing adventures (e.g. a medieval versus futuristic setting), but also manipulate manifold aspects of self in divergent fashions. Administering the Myer-Briggs four factor personality scale to 225 active fantasy role players, Yee uncovered a personality typology of game players such that a personality type correlated highly with gaming behavior and helped to explain how the role playing affected aspects of self. For example, the Intuitive is attracted to fantasy role playing because she strives to exercise imagination and be creative when solving problems. She chooses roles which diverge from the scripts she follows in her own life, and takes such new perspectives to be an exciting challenge, connecting with them intensely. As a result, through her character the Intuitive gains a better understanding of her inner self, possibly resolving problems in her real life. Alternatively, the Judger is a natural leader, organizing and delegating duties with ease. The Judger is attracted to the codified logic inherent in role playing, paying intimate attention to the charts and rules involved in the action. The Judger is also emotionally detached from her character, thus has little difficulty playing many differing roles, often choosing a character based only on what persona is lacking in the group.

The extent to which fantasy role playing games and video games are psychologically related is questionable. The setting, rules, and subjective experience of both are quite divergent, and it is even unclear if the player populations overlap. In all, however, the desire to take on a persona diametrically opposed to oneself, to enter a new and fantastic realm where the laws of physics do not abound, and the experience of mentally and emotionally unsettling one's foundation in the physical world are all clear aspects of both fantasy role playing and video games. Thus, it is likely the fundamental aspects of fantasy role playing games which attract its players also play a role in the on screen adventures of video game players[22], and as a result, these varied personality studies are a first step in understanding individual differences in cyberspace.

 

Detrimental Effects of Video Games

A recently published landmark study by Kraut et al. (1998) formalized what many had feared for the past decade, that involvement in cyberspace could have a detrimental effect on well-being. Following almost two hundred subjects during their first one to two years of Internet use, the researchers found a positive relationship between time spent in cyberspace and feelings of depression and loneliness. In addition, Internet use coincided with decreased communication with family members and declines in the size of subjects' social circles.

According to some accounts, there is reason to believe that children and adolescents are most vulnerable to the effects reported by Kraut et al. Csikszentminhalyi (1984) notes that socialization processes guide the development of the adolescent, and the outcome of this development is largely contingent on the socialization milieu. For that reason, Csikszentminhalyi (1984) investigated the percentages of time adolescents spent at school, at home, and in public. Time at home comprised the largest proportion of waking hours (41 percent), and the adolescent's bedroom was the largest single area of waking activity, at 13 percent. It is likely, however, that these figures would be inaccurate for the modern day adolescent, since for some a fourth location would need to be added, that of cyberspace. It is clear that for the adolescent, the bedroom represents an area of needed reprieve from social pressures, a space of one's own invention, and freedom from parents; those factors likely explain its frequency of occupancy. Yet, cyberspace offers not only all of those opportunities, but also allows the user to finesse her perception of current reality, an obvious goal of almost all adolescents. As a result, cyberspace is an especially salient vehicle for socialization in this developmental stage, thus, adolescents may be especially affected by Kraut et al.'s findings.

Accordingly, current fears of cyberspace center upon its addictive potential, and much of this issue hinges upon the video gaming world. A 1995 study by Phillips et al. investigated patterns of video game play in nearly 900 adolescents aged twelve to seventeen. Seven and a half percent of the sample (76% male) were considered to have scored highly on an addiction scale adapted from the DSM-III-R criteria for pathological gambling. These children played video games six or more days a week for at least twelve hours total, usually more. They also admitted to playing longer than intended in each session, and reported neglecting homework and chores because of their gaming activities. Moreover, individuals in this subgroup were significantly more likely to assert that their parents felt they played video games too frequently, and most pointedly, reported a significant improvement in mood after playing games.

Indeed, Ladouceur (1995,) surveyed 122 random frequenters of video arcades and found 24% of the sample to be either problem or pathological gamblers. Here, visits to arcades were positively correlated with the extent to which individuals gamble. Additionally, Fisher and Griffiths (1995) report a strong developmental link between excessive video game playing and later slot machine addiction. In turn, Fisher (1994) developed a diagnostic scale specifically for potential video game addicts.

In psychoanalytic terms, video game addicts are explained by Klein as "fallen knights", unable to deal with age-appropriate conflicts. Thus, under the weight of confusion, addicts regress to the oral stage where the major defense mechanism is withdrawal (Provenzo, 1991, p. 55). Klein illustrates: "with their hand tightly grasping the video game's manual control, the "joy stick", [addicts] enter a richly saturated autoerotic - even autistic - fantasy world that is perfectly designed by their creators to capture the conflicts and struggles of fixated youths."

 

The Present Study

Philosopher of science J. David Bolter has written with regard to the computer: "our age is unique in that its greatest promise comes from our use of this technology as a means by which we reshape nature in order to suit our needs." (Provenzo, 1991, p.121) The statement seems innocuous at first appraisal. As a communicative tool and a device of unmatched potential to enhance efficiency of multifarious projects, the needs to which Bolter refers seem obvious. And yet, as the agency for cyberspace, the computer does much more for us, and indeed, much more to us. Ironically, research has not concerned itself with the latter point. For, at the very least, the types of users Turkle describes are considered by most "super-geeks", while for others their behavior is pathological, indicative of a deep abnormality that pushes them from the physical world into the virtual, existing on the utter margins of normality. And yet, with closer inspection we may find that whatever needs are fulfilled for such people by living "life on the screen", you and I, our family, friends, and neighbors all have the same urgent, inner demands - the difference, is in their fulfillment. Is the modern day Luddite not a tender parent, a ferocious boss, a connoisseur of fine wines with a weakness for fast food, a good listener, a poor lover, someone who seemingly abhors conflict yet delights in each new Schwarzenegger film, and a person who attends church religiously yet furtively glances at the top shelf of the newsstand -- all at the same time? Clearly, role playing and sublimation are not unique products of cyberspace.

In these terms, life on the screen is life, only with the added enhancement that it is a life chosen and created by the subject, where no a priori rules of behavior apply. The dearth of research acknowledging this point suggests either that many believe the works of writers like Turkle and Talbott are not worthy of scientific investigation, or that the scientific community would rather not verify their claims. For, if Provenzo is correct in his assertion that "video games are playgrounds in which we define ourselves (p.96)," society is losing a battle for the socialized control of more than a few individuals. And as games and greater cyberspace expand, becoming more intense, more alluring, and more like the physically constructed world, many more battles may be lost. Freud might have been pleased, and as evidenced by the identifiable fear permeating predictions of the effect of this technological advancement, civilization may not be[23].

***

The current study maintains that cyberspace affects its users in concrete and identifiable manners. Moreover, the needs, desires, and personality characteristics users bring to the cyberspace arena mediate both the types of applications utilized within the domain as well as the ways in which the conscious reality of the user is influenced. This is the first study of its kind to empirically investigate cyberspace with these a priori assumptions.

Turkle's (1995) vivid observational research deserves much credit for identifying the existence of previously undescribed psychological forces at work during human-cyberspace interactions, and with the aid of psychoanalytic theory, an explanatory hypothesis delineating those forces has here been promulgated. It is now possible to take Turkle's research a step further, since along with other experimental literature, a theoretical framework has been created such that hypotheses regarding the conscious experience of the cyberspace user may be put forth.

***

Stemming from Scott's (1995) aggression research suggesting that individual differences play the greatest part in negotiating the subjective experience of cyberspace, the current study will focus on the role personality traits play in one's selection and encounters with cyberspace. To that end, the Five-Factor model of personality, or the "Big Five", will serve as a descriptive measure.

 

The Five-Factor Model of Personality

In attempting to define the most penetrating dimensions of personality, all theories rest on the one critical assumption - that the individual differences of most significance in human interactions are eventually coded into language, thus the lexical universe can reflexively distill the basic structure of personality (Goldberg, 1981).

And as early as the 1930s, without even the assistance of effective computational techniques, a few theoreticians and even one philosopher (Austin, 1957) suggested that the fundamental structure of personality would yield "five distinguishable but separable factors." (McDougall, 1932) Later work by Cattell (1947), using Allport and Odbert (1936) as his source for a comprehensive selection of personality-related trait terms borne of an unabridged English dictionary, formalized that early assumption empirically, but instead reported twelve factors of personality, not five. However, later work by Fiske (1949), Norman (1963), and a host of others, utilizing more accepted methods of factor analysis, argued Cattell's dimensions were much too broad, exhibiting greater reliability and accuracy when the twelve were further reduced to five basic factors. Yet, by the 1960s, the advent of behaviorism, with its disdain for something as subjective as "personality", and the clamorings of social psychologists calling for greater emphasis on the situation, not personality in determining behavior, led to a virtual halt in all personality structure research (Costa and Widiger, 1994, p. 14).

The early 1980s brought a resurgence of investigation into personality factors as Goldberg and his associates studied the hierarchical nature of the grammar of personality. Spanning both specific and therefore precise terms, such as aloof, and broad terms such as Extraversion, subordinating a wide domain of related, lower level constructs, Goldberg attempted to systematically move toward a synthesis of various personality dimensions purported by the past research of others (1981). For example, Goldberg modeled how earlier dimensions such as Potency correlated highly with others such as Activity, even though each factor was established through autonomous research. As a result, Goldberg suggested combining assorted factors, for instance melding Potency and Activity into a dimension called Surgency, later to be known as Extraversion. In all, Goldberg (1981) maintained that although broad factors were difficult to discover, an examination of all research up to that point revealed that in a general way, personality was consistent with five factors related to these terms: Power, Love, Work, Affect, and Intellect.

Today the nomenclature has been altered, but the number and basic meaning of the factors remains constant[24]. Known commonly as the "Big Five", Costa & McCrae's (1985) five-factor model contains the dimensions of Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness to Experience (O), Agreeableness (A), and Consciousness (C). N refers to the chronic level of emotional adjustment and instability. A high N individual is prone to psychological distress, unrealistic ideas, excessive cravings or urges, and maladaptive coping responses, appearing nervous, insecure and hypochondriacal. The low N individual seems calm, relaxed, hardy, secure and self-satisfied. E involves the quantity and intensity of preferred interpersonal interactions, activity level, need for stimulation, and capacity for joy. People high on this dimension are sociable, talkative, person orientated, fun loving, optimistic, and affectionate, while those scoring low on E tend to be reserved, sober, aloof, independent, and quiet, though not necessarily unfriendly or unhappy. O assesses proactive seeking and appreciation of experience for its own sake, as well as tolerance for the unfamiliar. High O scorers are curious, imaginative, and are willing to entertain novel ideas and unconventional values. Persons low on O appear conventional in their beliefs and attitudes, conservative in their tastes, dogmatic, and behaviorally set in their ways. A, like E, is also an interpersonal dimension, yet refers to the kinds of interactions a person prefers along a continuum from compassion to antagonism in thoughts, feelings, and actions. Those high in A seem softhearted, good-natured, trusting, helpful, forgiving, and altruistic. Low A scorers tend to be cynical, rude, abrasive, suspicious, uncooperative, irritable, vengeful, and even manipulative. Finally, C measures one's degree of organization, persistence, control, and motivation in goal directed behavior. High C persons appear organized, reliable, hard-working, punctual, ambitious, and persevering, while lower scorers may seem aimless, lazy, careless, lax, negligent, weak-willed, and hedonistic (Costa & McCrae, 1985).

The above formulation of the Five-Factors is highly consistent with the meanings of the broad general factors set forth by Goldberg in 1981 - the changes are at most cosmetic. In fact, a series of experiments reported in a 1990 monograph by Goldberg himself suggested that no matter what brand of factor analysis was applied, "it now seems reasonable to conclude that analyses of any reasonably large sample of English trait adjectives in either self or peer descriptions will elicit a variant of the Big-Five factor structure, and therefore that virtually all such terms can be represented within this model." Perhaps more tellingly, Goldberg does not hesitate to point out that the Costa and McCrae version of the five-factor structure is replicated in studies of both the German and Dutch lexical universe, and its personality questionnaire, the NEO-PI, has been translated into five other languages.

Other evidence for the model comes from work by Borkenau (1992) who concluded after reviewing studies of the above factor structure gleaned through stranger ratings that it appeared that the Big Five must somehow be built into the cognitive system of person perception, not unlike an implicit personality theory. Additionally, there is now evidence that N,E,O,A,C are heritable dimensions, suggesting they are basic features of human nature (Costa & McCrae, 1992).

Not all reports are equivocal, however. Although Peabody and Goldberg (1989) confirmed the Big Five model, the authors noted that an additional Values factor was located in analyses of internal ratings in which subjects' were asked to rate themselves. In addition, Factor V, Openness to Experience, loads weakly enough that many, including Peabody and Goldberg, argue it should instead be interpreted as Intellect, or even Culture.

Additional conundrums include the notion that the Big Five taxonomy is not entirely all-inclusive. Traits relating to maturity, autonomy, gender, and values are conspicuously absent (Fujita, 1996). A stinging diatribe by Jack Block (1991) also maintains that the language of personality within the Five-Factor model is provided by and comfortable to novices, the likes of whom cannot adequately describe personality as accurately as experts. Moreover, the factor representation is hardly orthogonal, as certain dimensions are significantly correlated with one another.

In all, a more suitable or robust alternative to the Big Five is not to be found within the current cannon of personality structure theory, thus it is an obvious choice for use in this study.

 

Hypotheses

As described earlier, cyberspace is a technological behemoth precluding simple description and uniform generalization. However, the world of video gaming serves as the most common entryway into other applications, and through their vivid graphics, interactive and communicative capabilities, and potential for fantasy projection, video games incorporate and distill the most psychologically salient aspects of cyberspace, providing a perfect domain for cyber-research.

Existing research on video games is greatly outdated as the games of the new millennium offer more brilliant and intensive interfaces than games created just five years ago. And as the technology rapidly improves, its effect on gamers will likely become more marked and identifiable, a notion researchers have yet to consider, save naturalistic theoreticians like Turkle and Talbott. This study considers the current dominion of video games, and with both theoretical and empirical research in the background, makes the following predictions:

 

Personality

It is first assumed, for reasons of methodological parsimony and through subjective experience, that few avid gamers participate in more than one video game genre. Overlaps which exist usually do not preclude the isolation of a primary game of choice. For this reason, and based on Yee's (1995) research into personality differences within fantasy role playing, it is logical to suggest that personality traits play a great role in the selection of games individuals choose to play. With regard to video games, this conception has never been investigated before. Three major categories of games have been selected for use in this study, as they are each distinct and likely to attract divergent types of personalities.

1.      First Person Action (FPA) - FPA games are those in which pure reaction time determines success or failure within the game. As such, the themes are simple, usually consisting of characters navigating complex maze-like environments, attempting to fire weapons at enemies before these opponents attack first. Little thought is involved during game play, as the object is simply to conquer as many opponents as possible in order to achieve a goal. First Person Action games played on a personal computer are organized either against a computer character or a human opponent found through the Internet (e.g. Quake). FPA games played on a home gaming console such as the Nintendo64 are played either singly against the computer, or against multiple human gamers at the same gaming console (e.g. Goldeneye 007).

2.      Role Playing Games (RP) - Role Playing video games are similar to fantasy role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, yet are adapted for a video gaming console (e.g. Final Fantasy VIII) or a personal computer (e.g. Riven). As such, Role Playing games allow one to take on the role of an imaginary character, completing adventures by solving puzzles and navigating around vivid imaginary worlds, with game play usually involving a minimal amount of combat. Of special note, unlike other genres, the action in role playing games is largely reactive as the gamer has the opportunity to shape the direction of action while completing missions. For instance, one may decide which characters to interact with and in what manner or tone. Additionally, the temporal sequence of game play is often nonlinear, allowing one to return to areas explored in previous gaming sessions. Finally, there are often no set guidelines as to where or what a character must investigate or how she might conduct her cyber-experience - there may be more than one way to conquer the game, a task sometimes taking upwards of two hundred hours, significantly longer than any other genre. Role playing games are generally utilized in a single player format only, though more recent games have begun to include aspects of Internet chat while gaming (e.g. Diablo II).

3.      Real Time Strategy (RTS) - RTS games are strategic warfare games in which a player commands a group of people and resources, organizing and maneuvering both in the hopes of conquering an opposing army. Players must decide where to move troops, how much fortification is necessary, and how to use resources to best attack the enemy. Action takes place on a personal computer, and one may play against computer opponents or challenge up to eight human adversaries over the Internet. In the latter case, a player may ally herself with others, creating a cooperative fighting atmosphere. In addition, many games allow for active chat windows during gaming so that competitors may discuss the game over the Internet while engaged in combat (e.g. Starcraft).

***

It is hypothesized that in relation to the Big Five personality factors, First Person Action gamers will score highest on extraversion, role players will score the lowest, and Real Time Strategy players will score between the two. Most First Person Action games are organized against humans in the same room, involving a very social atmosphere, and extraversion directly implies love of others' company. Additionally, these games require the least degree of thought - the action is direct, simple, most often very violent, and arouses interest often through gory details. A love of such external gratification is indicative of an extravert. Contrastly, role playing games are slow, require a good deal of thought, and much time is spent investigating beautiful and fantastic worlds of interaction in order to solve complex puzzles. Players must often create and identify with different characters, mediating conflict through diplomacy rather than brawn, all aspects which would be attractive to an introvert, and as is suggested by Douse and McManus (1993). Additionally, role playing games are frequently played singly, thus are least socially conducive. The action involved in Real Time Strategy is somewhat of a hybrid between FPA and role playing games. Game play is of a moderate pace and more intellectually challenging than a FPA game, yet not nearly as mentally taxing as a role playing game. Battles are common, but the conflicts are abstract and not vividly represented. Socially, RTS games are often played against humans, yet usually only over the Internet, thus are moderately interactive.

All three groups of gamers will likely score highly on openness, as any video game player must be willing to allow herself to interact and identify with some sort of alternate or virtual world. However, both Yee (1995) and Carroll and Carolin (1989) found that fantasy role players scored especially highly on Openness and freethinking personality dimensions, thus it is logical to assume the Role Players might score highest on this factor.

Role players will also likely score highest on the dimension of conscientiousness, as such games often take two hundred or more hours to complete (although many never finish), and great care must be taken to ensure that each task of the game is completed correctly (though not necessarily in a preset order), or the rest of the game cannot be continued - a high will to achieve is required. Thus, players need to be diligent, careful, and thorough, all aspects expected in persons scoring highly on Conscientiousness. In contrast, FPA games are often played in short, isolated sessions, requiring no attention to detail and little delayed gratification, thus these players will score lowest on this factor. Again, RTS gamers will score in between the two other groups, though still on the low end. Here, attention to detail is important, as is strategy and thought, but the gaming sessions are short and goals are achieved in relatively short time.

For the Neuroticism factor, it is predicted that both FPA and Role Playing gamers will score highly. For, FPA games lend themselves to impulsive behavior, played for a small amount of time and for immediate pleasure. Although this is not true for role playing games, DeRenard and Kline's (1990) findings that fantasy role players were high in cultural estrangement suggests a degree of worry and high self-consciousness, factors which fit well with one scoring highly for neuroticism. It is unclear how Real Time Strategy games will rate on Neuroticism.

Finally, no hypotheses are suggested for the dimension of Agreeableness.

 

Aggression

Previous studies on the extent of imitation versus catharsis after playing aggressive games are of questionable prognostic value, since the games utilized were of a nature quite unlike the games of today. Modern day violence in games is more realistic, vivid, and often extreme. It is not uncommon for a game to include specially patterned button responses such that one may actively decapitate an opponent, viewing the requisite blood and sounds which would accompany it. Such opportunity was not available even in Scott's (1995) study using the game Fatal Fury.

Regardless, early research has yielded equivocal results. It is here suggested that as the games of today replicate highly aggressive acts in very realistic manners like never before, players involved in such activity touch and expiate aspects of an innate aggressive drive state, as theorized by Freud. As a result, high intensity FPA players will experience the least degree of general aggressive affect outside of the game resulting from the opportunity to behave with the greatest aggression with the game. Role players, contrastly, will exhibit the greatest aggressive intent after playing (though less than if the game were not played), as such games offer the least opportunity for expelling instinctual urges within the game. RTS players, utilizing moderately aggressive games, will show aggressive intent to a moderate degree in comparison to the other two groups generally, and also while involved in game play. No sex differences are expected in the area of aggressive affect, as instinctual urges and their expression know no gender.

 

Female Gamers

For the large degree of speculation in relation to the lack of female involvement in the gaming world, no study has ever addressed the issue of personality as it interacts with females' desires to play modern day games. Clearly, as such a small percentage of females are involved in video games, in stark opposition to the proportion of males who play, the females who do compete in the gaming realm will comprise an extremely select subset, showing divergent personality characteristics in comparison to a non-gaming female sample.

For one, as research on video game perceptions show they are still considered a male domain, female players will score very highly on Extraversion, unwilling to pass up the fun-loving and enjoyable aspects of video games (Funk and Buchman, 1996). Moreover, as Horner has suggested that women will only engage in a stereotypically male activity if social acceptability if stressed, female players will score very highly on Openness, and quite lowly on Agreeableness, being both daring with a broad range of interests, as well as uncooperative with regard to social mores. The effects will be strongest for females who play FPA games, as that genre is most stereotypically male, and weakest for Role Playing games as they involve the greatest degree of interactive problem solving, relational thinking, and aesthetic pleasures, points Kafai (1996) noted might comprise a game popular for women.

The direct consequences of gaming in female subjects is difficult to speculate upon, as the interaction between social non-acceptance and the possible positive consequences of ego manipulation may vary greatly from subject to subject.

 

Gender Roles/Reversals

It is predicted that in accordance with all prior research on video gaming, the vast majority of subjects garnered from a naturalistic setting will be male. In addition, as Wright (2000) would suggest, a majority of subjects will have engaged in gender switching, though data for this effect may only be garnered for role playing adventurers, since games out of this genre are unlikely to permit such a gender flux. Moreover, these reversals are most likely to be exhibited by male subjects. That prediction is based on the primarily male case studies of gender reversals given by Turkle (1995), and the notion that males, given less leverage within society to act in feminine manners (whereas the reverse may be less true for females) will have a greater impetus to try out the more fluid aspects of their gender, as hypothesized by Freud (1933).

 

Addiction

Following previous research, a significant positive correlation is predicted to exist between game playing and intensity of gambling activities. As such, gambling may include frequent trips to casinos, informal poker games with friends, or even betting on the video games themselves. There may also be a smaller relationship between game playing and alcohol consumption as the latter is also shown to be addictive. That effect would be strongest in the FPA games, as those offer the most opportunities for socializing, and alcohol is often used in combination with social situations.

 

Non Repressive Sublimation

The notion that video games, or cyberspace in general, can provide a forum for non repressive sublimation is an entirely novel conception, isolated to this study. The term itself defies clear definition, thus positing it in operation is an even more difficult venture. However, it may be present whenever one is able to fulfill instinctual urges in very realistic manners, coming in contact with the depths of the unconscious mind through intense fantasy, concurrently acting within the realm of social acceptability.

As suggested earlier, only a very distinct sub-population of highly intense users, such as many of those quoted by Turkle, might achieve this specialized form of sublimation. It is hypothesized that those most likely to realize this phenomenon within cyberspace will share a certain identifiable pattern of personality characteristics. It is predicted that these individuals will be highly suggestible to the worlds of fantasy, having vivid imaginations, an intrinsic drive to identify with many different characters in video games and to use their virtual roles to discover and manipulate unconscious senses of selves. In this regard these subjects will score extremely highly on the Openness dimension. Additionally, by coming in contact with aspects of their unconscious and destroying layers of societally induced repression, these subjects will feel somehow more complete than others, have a very thorough understanding of their identity, a stable self-concept, and thus score extremely low on levels of Neuroticism. These subjects will also show traces of nonconformity with social values, unconsciously unwilling to accept the behavior society expects of them, searching out sanctioned ways to circumvent this oppression. Thus, these subjects will also show extremely low levels of Agreeableness. Additionally, the activity of non repressive sublimation requires a precise desire to understand the depths of oneself, thus subjects will also show extremely low scores on Extraversion. Finally, unwilling to blindly accept the rules of interaction and behavioral mores set up by civilization, subjects exhibiting non repressive sublimation will score exceptionally low Conscientiousness ratings.

Moreover, the playing habits of this subset should be split evenly between FPA games and role playing adventures, gaining insight into unconscious roles and senses of self through the latter, and satisfying repressed urges through the former. For, the true needs satisfied by video games are very specific - the needs of the unconscious. It is unclear if the immense satisfaction from non repressive sublimation correlates with video game addiction, an issue to be investigated. It is clear, however, that the holistic experience of the non repressivly, sublimating gamer will be one of marked contentment, touching on aspects of existential utopia, stable in identity, sated in instinct.

As already discussed, typical cyberspace users, those of moderate intensity, may exhibit characteristic experiences such as those described by Turkle in so much as they utilize the cyberspace milieu as a forum to construct a variety of core egos to be integrated or kept safely at bay in the physical world. Such individuals will have aspects of the non repressive sublimators, simply to a lesser degree. Hence, their personality profile will also consist of high Openness, low Neuroticism, low Agreeableness, low Extraversion, and low Conscientiousness ratings, yet in moderate proportion in comparison to the non repressive sublimation subset. More importantly, these subjects are likely to be cognizant not only of their use of cyberspace as a medium to try out different senses of self, but also in its concrete effect on their self concept in the real world. They may use cyberspace and video games for a specific end, for instance to release tension or exact virtual revenge on a real world enemy. Their subjective experience will differ from that of the highest intensity group in that their acceptance of the realm of the fantastic is less complete, their time in cyberspace seems isolated and game-like, and the inner sense of completeness and contentedness due to their cyber-experiences is conspicuously lacking. The virtual has not become real, yet exists as a separate social laboratory.

 

Age Effects

Although the subject age range for the investigation is unrestricted and contingent upon the actual ages of high intensity playing population, it is hypothesized that the ages of studied games will cluster around the years of thirteen to twenty-four. Quite simply, it is assumed that those most attracted to the gaming world are most likely to exist within the confines of the developmental stage most germane to identity development (the period when cyberspace is most likely to exert its effects), that of Erikson's Identity versus Role Confusion. As suggested above, the temporal confines of this stage are fluid and mutable with respect to both technological advances and life experiences, yet even minor age differences still confer a few predictive differences, though their nature is extremely tentative, due in large part to degrees of individual developmental variability.

In so much as it has been hypothesized that personality characteristics lead individuals to interact with specific game genres or non repressively sublimate and so on, there should be no differences between ages. In other words, the same personality rubric that would lead a female to rebel against existing social mores and participate in games should be equally in tact if one subject is thirteen years old and another is twenty years old. In addition, many studies attest to the longitudinal reliability of the Five-Factor Model, thus this effect will be identifiably present within subjects. Costa and McCrae (1988) found six year retest correlations ranging from .82 to .85 for the five factors in self-reports from almost 400 men and women. Additionally, a seven year longitudinal peer rating study of the five factors found reliability coefficients of .67 for N, .81 for E, .84 for O, .63 for A, and .78 for C (Costa and McCrae, 1992).

Clearly, however, the pressures, mental maturity levels, and practical constraints existent between the average high school freshman and college senior are divergent, thus those factors will affect how the subject generally relates to cyberspace. For instance, although it is very possible younger teenaged subjects might play games at a dangerously frequent rate in terms of addiction, one would expect very little correlation between game playing and other addictive behaviors such as gambling (though maybe with regard to drug consumption), as their young age is a precluding factor. At the same time, age should exhibit no interactive effect in terms of the above aggression hypotheses, since it is assumed the nature of aggression as an instinctual force is the same in both cases, including similar societal pressures to repress it, thus the effects of playing should be identical.

In all, the major differences can be discovered largely through the subjective experience of the game player. For example, at age fourteen, the quest to establish a singular identity may be of less urgency than the pursuit of the same goal at age twenty-two. As a result, it is predicted that college age students will elicit much clearer explanations of why they play the games they do, and how those games affect them - their needs are more clearly defined, and definite growth in abstract thinking capacity, as delineated by formal operational thinking, allows for their greater explication and comprehension of how such needs may be fulfilled through cyberspace. Specifically, the ability to comprehend and verbalize how entering a virtual world can affect one's real world sense of self may be clearly laid out by the older gamer, while statements of gaming intent by younger subjects will likely be marked by value judgements such as, "It's fun" or "I love to kill the big boss." For even though the games may help younger subjects with a sense of identity, it is unlikely they will be identified as useful in those explicit terms. The utility of gaming for older subjects is more pressing, thus, in combination with newly matured cognitive tools, will be more consciously lucid.

Finally, age is not a constraining factor in the potential for non repressive sublimation, as any age is susceptible to intense fantasy. However, it may affect patterns of play in that older subjects may have less structured days due to the nature of the college schedule, thus their play may occur at more random intervals, in opposition to younger subjects living at home who are subject to the daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. routine of the school day, in addition to the pressures of parental supervision.

Method

Porter (1995) has warned that video games preclude methods of experimental research, the implications of which suggest a highly malleable methodology, conceived and reconceived as the study progresses. Furthermore, "in cases in which behavioral phenomena are variable, putative causes more obscure, and effects more subtle, theories of action must be developed from passive observation." Such assumptions guided the methodological approach taken by this study.

 

Subjects

Following Yee's (1999) successful recruitment of table-top role playing participants via the Internet, subjects were self-selected by means of their response to World Wide Web discussion group postings inviting them to complete the study. In all, data for 266 subjects were logged through an electronic data storage base at Haverford College[25]. Thirty-seven subjects were eliminated from consideration due to incomplete, repeated, or disingenuous responses, leaving 229 total subjects (205 male, 24 female; 89.5% and 10.5% of total). Subject age ranged from 10 to 55 years with an average age of 22.4 (Median = 20; SD = 7.63).

 
Design

Prior to subject recruitment, three video games were selected to represent the three game genres of research interest. Quake 3, produced by ID Software and the third installment in the Quake series, served as the First Person Action game. Everquest, developed by Verant Interactive, was selected as the representative Role Playing adventure, and Starcraft, created by Blizzard Entertainment, constituted the Real Time Strategy game. Games were selected for their recency (each was produced no later than mid-1998), popularity (based on naturalistic observation of the gaming world, media publications, and the large number of hits accrued on a popular World Wide Web search engine[26]), and uniformity (all three are played on a personal computer and have Internet capability, offering the selection of numerous opponents within cyberspace). Most importantly, however, each game was widely considered the acme of game playing technology for its respective category. RegardingQuake 3, Jeff Gerstman, the FPA reviewer for gamespot.com, a leading Internet gaming site, writes: "the animation, texture, and 3D models are amazing… Quake 3 is an outstanding game providing the ultimate death-match experience." Greg Kasavin, also from gamespot.com asserts that "Everquest looks so good comparing it to others in its class would be a disservice. Everquest is not for casual gamers…between its excellent graphics, its performance, its rich fantasy setting, and its propensity to force you to cooperate with your fellow players, it is the best game in its class." Finally, Ron Dulin, the RTS reviewer for gamespot.com posits that Starcraft is "without a doubt the best game ever to adhere to the Real Time Strategy formula. The game has so much life in it you'll never grow tired of it."

Additionally, each game deviates little from classic conceptions of the FPA, RP, and RTS genres, embodying patently compelling graphic-user interfaces which lend themselves to maximum psychic involvement.

Quake 3. The sounds and sights of Quake 3 strive to mimic an intense combat experience as closely as possible. This armed conflict, however, is conspicuously solo. In frenetic segments of varying temporal intervals the player must navigate through a myriad of futuristic passages and rooms, procuring various guns and ammunitions along the way, attempting to annihilate everything and everyone in sight. A small chat window allows the player to give and receive taunting messages to other players (both computer generated and real) on the interactive server. At any one time a player may compete against up to eight players selected among tens of thousands on-line.

Everquest. Everquest places the user in a vast world of "Tolkienesque" fantasy with a primitive map, no direction, and a will to survive, initially with no weapon or abilities. The player must learn by trial and error how to most effectively navigate the universe of both friends and foes, using the extensive chat network to team up and socialize with the other users on a server (often up to three thousand at one time) in order to gain fighting experience and other tools useful in the realm, achieving higher levels of proficiency (rated by the game itself) and completing obtuse missions in return for items of sustenance. The pace is set by the individual player, and any aggression is more cerebral than automatic. Gameplay, indeed, does not commence until the player has spent time creating a character from over 10,000 possible permutations of various personas, selected from a variety of genders, races, and powers.

Starcraft. In Starcraft , the user must choose among three races of beings, each with differing attributes, bringing one's own military installation into battle against those created by others over the Internet or generated by the game itself. Gameplay is top-down, as if the user were a divine overlord directing the construction of an enormous battle station. Fortresses and firepower must be built, troops must be organized and directed, and strategy must be instantaneously defined and redefined as an attack from all sides could commence at any moment. Such management issues never cease while involved in the fifteen to twenty minute battle segments.

The conceptual design of the study was 2 (sex) X 3 (game). The nature of this type of research and its accompanying hypotheses prevented use of a fully experimental design. Dependent variables included subject characteristics and playing habits, players' self-descriptions in real life and while playing, personality, and motivations for gaming both personally and in terms of the average gamer.

 

Questionnaire

Three separate surveys were created to match each gaming condition, differing only in questions precluding comprehension across gaming. For their respective game of choice, all subjects were asked to provide their gender, age, number of hours played per week, a description of gameplay setting,[27] their personal gaming history (other games or types of games played and when), and extent of involvement in on-line gaming communities known as clans or guilds. Additionally, all subjects listed their primary leisure activities[28] and rated their proficiency level within their game of choice. For the latter, Everquest gamers were instead asked to list the number and skill level of characters they had created[29]. Everquest subjects also noted if they played characters whose gender was opposed to their own. For each survey, four uniform short answer questions were additionally queried[30]. Finally, subjects were given the option to provide an email address for possible follow-up contact or so as to be informed of the study results.

Rating scales included an abridged fifty-item Big Five personality questionnaire (as provided by Goldberg (1990)) and two adjective rating lists. Each list was identical, containing twenty adjectives and a five-point rating scale for which the subject rated the extent to which a certain adjective was self-descriptive. Adjectives were selected from a Trait Factor Structure, developed by Peabody and Goldberg (1989), that presented the loadings of various adjective dimensions on the three most robust factors of the Big 5: Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. The adjectives with the three highest loadings from each factor were selected for use in the ratings list, as were eleven others chosen for saliency in relation to research hypotheses[31]. Adjective list one asked subjects to rate themselves generally, that is, in real life. Adjective list two prompted subjects to rate how they perceived themselves while interacting in the worlds of Quake, Everquest, or Starcraft.

 

Procedure

A preliminary on-line questionnaire (see appendix A) was administered in Fall, 1999, to forty-two Haverford College undergraduates (32 male, 10 female; M age = 21.5) in order to test the effectiveness of the on-line data base, and additionally to aid in the refinement of survey methodology in terms of both content and future areas of explication. This initial survey diverged from the formal, later questionnaire in that the participants could be categorized as casual gamers (M hours played per week = 6.5) and were selected not for an interest in a single video game, but of gaming in general. In resultant, the diverse array of games listed by subjects as of primary interest (spanning use on a personal computer and on a gaming console) made generalizations across games or even genres impossible. However, rich descriptive responses concerning questions relating to the subjective experience of gaming, one's mood before and after a session, and the high incidence of subjects reporting dreams regarding a desire for existence within a virtual gaming world solidified the belief that personality, possibly psychodynamics, played an enormous role in the experience of the avid gamer.

The formal questionnaire (see appendices B, C, and D), launched in Spring of 2000, sought to control for subjects whose gameplay primarily involved a single genre -- in fact, a single game -- and whose propensity to play greatly eclipsed what would be considered "normal" by those not associated with the gaming world. It was hoped the former step would lead to salient analyses between games, and that the latter stipulation would maximize the effect of cyberspace on the user. Following the completion and pilot testing of the three questionnaires (ensuring a sensible length and question comprehension), the URL for each was attached to postings of various web based discussion groups for each game. Thus, subjects lurking in a Quake discussion group would find the subject line denoting the post as a Quake survey, and then were free to read a message inviting them to participate by clicking on the questionnaire link, submitting the data minutes later[32]. The use of discussion groups specific to a particular game sought to control for "high-end" users of the game who not only played the game but also spent a considerable amount of added time discussing its contents. This procedure also easily isolated each gaming condition. Discussion groups were selected by visiting the first twenty sites garnered for each game based on a web search using game name as the key word. Only groups deemed "active" were targeted for subject recruitment[33].

Concurrently, the designers of all three games were contacted to ascertain whether results obtained in the present study would aid in the production, planning, and marketing of future games. It was also hoped the designers would release existing demographic or focus group data conducted privately for each respective company, serving as an ecological rejoinder to the present research. Only the designers of Quake responded, positing their great interest in the current work and also admitting that demographic and subjective data for their games did not exist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Results

 

Subject description

Of the 229 total subjects, the Quake condition yielded 54 (23.6%) respondents, the Everquest condition 91 (39.7%), and the Starcraft grouping 84 (36.7%). Female subjects by game numbered 10 for Quake (18.5%; 4.4% of total), 11 for Everquest (12.1%; 4.8% of total), and 3 for Starcraft (3.6%; 1.3% of total). Mean Quake age was 23.3 years (SD = 9), mean Everquest age was 25.7 (SD = 8.3), and the average age of the Starcraft players was 18.3 years (SD = 5.6). An age by game ANOVA revealed significant differences between ages [F (2,226) = 20.98, p<. 01] and a Tukey HSD test reported that subjects in the Quake and Everquest conditions were significantly older than the Starcraft subjects (p<.01; p<.01).

An ANOVA also revealed a significant between game difference for hours played per week [F(2,222) = 24.02, p<.001] as Everquest [M = 23.9] subjects reported playing significantly longer than did either Quake (M = 15.8; p<.01) or Starcraft (M = 11.3; p<.01) respondents.

Significant differences existed between the extent to which subjects in each condition were members of organized on-line gaming communities known as clans or guilds [X2 (2) = 14.9, p<.01]. A chi-square analysis indicated that Everquest players were significantly more involved (63 of 84[34] subjects (75%)) than Quake (21 of 54 (38.9%); p<.01) or Starcraft (32 of 81 (39.5%); p<.01) gamers.

 

Patterns of Play

With regard to the various scenarios in which subjects described they often played, Everquest subjects were most likely to report playing with partners or opponents who were met through a virtual setting (71.4%), and were more likely to utilize that format than both Quake (55.6%) and Starcraft (41.7%) players. Quake subjects were most likely to play with others they had never encountered before in any setting (72.2%), in comparison to respondents in the Everquest (54.9%) and Starcraft (53.6%) conditions. Few subjects reported engaging in their game of choice with others in the same room (Quake = 16.7%; Everquest = 16.5%; Starcraft = 17.9%), and Quake subjects were least likely to play with others in the game they had been acquainted with in real life (27.8%; Everquest = 51.6%; Starcraft = 50%). Finally, 31.5% of Quake players responded that they played the single player (off-line) version of their game occasionally, in comparison to 40.5% of Starcraft players. This single player option is not available in Everquest.

With respect to the evolution of gamers' genre proclivities, 38.9% of Quake players had never played any game within the role playing genre, while 46.3% had played such a game in the past but not currently. The remaining subjects, or 14.8%, were active in a role-playing world concurrently with Quake. Additionally, 27.8% had never engaged in a real time strategy game, 40.7% had played one in the past, and 31.5% played one currently. For Everquest, 14.3% of respondents had never played a first person action game, compared to 19.8% who had never played any game from the real time strategy genre. In turn, 51.6% and 41.8% played those respective genres in the past but not now, and 34.1% and 38.5% played both first person action and real time strategy games presently. With regard to Starcraft, 28.6% of the subjects were never involved in video role playing, but 27.4% were active in the past and are 44% currently. 15.5% of the respondents had never competed within the first person action genre, and 36.9% had in the past but did not currently, while 47.6% of the Starcraft subjects described some present involvement with a first person action game.

 

Overall Personality Differences

A between game ANOVA for the Big-5 personality factors revealed a trend towards significance for the dimensions of conscientiousness [F(2,226) = 2.68, p =.07] and openness [F(2,226) = 2.75, p =.07]. A Tukey HSD post hoc comparison described the difference for conscientiousness as between Quake (M= 32.8) and Everquest (M = 30.1) at the .06 significance level. Quake (M = 38.2) players also rated themselves as more open than did Everquest (M = 36.5) gamers (p =.05).

Among all subjects, hour per week spent playing Quake, Everquest, or Starcraft did not significantly correlate with any of the Big Five dimensions (though a negative trend toward significance was revealed for the association between hours and conscientiousness: r = -.13, p = .06). As a more sensitive technique, subjects within each game were categorized as higher or lower end players based on their reported hours per week played. Subjects reporting that they played their game of choice for an amount below the median number of hours per week for each game were considered low end players, while subjects who played the median number of hours per week or above were considered high end players. An ANOVA indicated that high end Quake players (n = 32; M = 34.8) rated themselves as significantly more extraverted (F(1,52) = 4.06, p<.05) than did the low end Quake players (n = 22; M = 30.8). For Everquest, low end players (n = 38) reported themselves as being more agreeable (M = 36; F(1,89) = 5.74, p<.05) and more conscientious (M = 31.8; F(1,89) = 4.71, p<.05) as compared to the self-ratings of high-end players (n = 53; M(agree) = 32.8, M(consc) = 28.9). No significant differences were found between high (n = 47) and low (n = 37) end Starcraft players.

Of greater interest, however, were personality ratings between games for subjects who played with extreme intensity, that is, reported engaging in their game of choice for over thirty hours[35] a week (n = 45). It was found that, among the most active players, the three games differed significantly on the openness dimension [F(2,42) = 4.59, p < .05] as Quake (n = 9; M = 40.8) players scored higher on openness than did Everquest (n = 31; M = 35.2) gamers (p < .05), and scored more highly (nonsignificantly) on openness than did Starcraft (n = 5; M = 33.8) players (p = .05).

When subjects who played their respective game over thirty hours a week were compared to those who reported playing from zero to twenty-nine hours a week (n = 184), an analysis of variance described the latter group (M = 31.5) as more conscientious than subjects the former category (M = 28.7) [F(1,227) = 6.29, p < .05]. The same analysis using only the Quake respondents (n = 9; n = 45) also found that subjects who played Quake for over thirty hours a week (M = 28.9) were less conscientious than those playing less frequently (M = 33.5) [F(1,52) = 4.13, p<.05]. Finally, Everquest subjects in the over thirty hours per week set (n = 31) were found to score significantly lower on emotional stability (M = 28.4) than subjects who played for less hours (n = 60; M = 31.5) [F(1,89) = 4.34, p<.05][36]. No significant differences were found for the same subject groupings in the Starcraft condition (n(30+) = 5, n(<30) = 79).

 

Adjective Rating Scales

Assorted analyses of adjective scales describing the within and real life subjective experience of respondents were used to test hypotheses relating to aggression and non repressive sublimation, as well as to provide greater insight into each game and those who play it.

For adjective list one, in which subjects' described themselves as they are in real life, that is, generally, a significant difference between games was found only for the adjective ambitious [F(2,226) = 3.4, p < .05], with a trend toward significance for the adjective aroused [F(2,226) = 2.81, p = .06]. A Tukey post hoc comparison found that Quake (M = 2.2) players rated themselves as significantly more ambitious than did Everquest (M = 2.6) players (p<.05). In addition, Quake (M = 2.3) subjects rated themselves as significantly more aroused in real life than did subjects in the Starcraft (M = 2.6) condition (p<.05).

Salient means for adjective list two, or subjects' self-ratings while engaged in their game of choice, are presented in figure 1 (end of document). Results of the between game ANOVA are listed[37]. Tukey HSD post hoc tests revealed that Quake players rated themselves as significantly more aggressive than did Everquest and Starcraft players while all were involved in their respective game (p<.001;p<.001). A trend toward significance was revealed for the adjective self-controlled as Everquest gamers rated themselves as more self-controlled than Quake players did (p = .05). In addition, Quake subjects rated themselves as significantly more distrustful than did Everquest subjects (p<.05), while Everquest subjects were found to be rated significantly more warm than both Quake and Starcraft subjects (p<.001; p<.001). In contrast, Quake and Starcraft gamers rated themselves as more competitive in their game of choice than those playing Everquest (p<.001; p<.01). Quake players were also found to be self-rated as more aroused than subjects in the Everquest condition (p<.05). Moreover, they were also self-rated as more bold than were Starcraft players within the game (p<.01), and both Quake and Starcraft respondents claimed to be more uncooperative than did Everquest respondents (p<.01;p<.01). Finally, both Everquest and Starcraft gamers rated themselves to be significantly more introspective compared to Quake subjects while playing (p<.05;p<.05).

Significant differences based on a T-Test for adjective ratings in real life versus within game for Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft are presented in figures 2, 3, and 4[38] (end of document). As is shown, within Quake, players reported feeling significantly more aggressive, distrustful, spontaneous, happy, nervous/anxious, competitive, and bold, while feeling less self-controlled, guilty, warm, creative/imaginative, aroused, and introspective. Everquest respondents rated themselves as more aggressive, spontaneous, happy, warm, ambitious, thorough, bold, and satisfied/sated within the game, as well as less guilty, nervous/anxious, creative/imaginative, aroused, uncooperative, and introspective. In contrast, while engaged in the game, Starcraft gamers reported more aggression, distrust, happiness, nervousness/anxiety, competitiveness, boldness, and satisfaction/satiation, and less self-control, guilt, warmth, creativity/imagination, arousal, uniqueness/nonconformity, and introspection.

Further, a between game within adjective (in game versus in real life) ANOVA was performed to discover significant differences for the degree to which adjective ratings changed across real life and within game rating scales for Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft. Differences were discovered for the degree to which subjects in each condition became more or less aggressive [F(2,226) = 6.67; p<.01], distrustful [F(2,226) = 6.15; p<.01], spontaneous [F(2,226) = 3.13; p<.05], warm ([F(2,226) = 17.39; p<.001], nervous/anxious [F(2,226) = 7.63; p<.01], competitive [F(2,226) = 3.73; p<.05], uncooperative [F(2,226) = 3.97; p<.05], and introspective [F(2,226) = 6.33; p<.01]. More specifically, Tukey post hoc tests revealed that Quake (Mchange = -1.5) players experienced a greater increase in aggression than did Everquest (M = -.7) or Starcraft (M = -.9) players (p<.01; p<.05). The increase in spontaneity for Quake (M = -.8) respondents was also greater than the increase reported by Starcraft (M = -.2) respondents (p<.05). For introspection, the decrease reported by Quake (M = .9) players was greater than the decrease reported by Starcraft (M = .6) gamers (p<.01). In addition, the decrease in warmth experienced by Quakers (M = .8) and Starcrafters (M = .6) was greater than the increase in warmth reported by Everquesters (M = -.3)(p<.001; p<.001). Starcraft (M = -.4) players revealed a greater increase in competitiveness than did Everquest (M = -.05) players (p<.05), and registered a lesser decrease (M = .04) in uncooperativeness (p<.05) than did those same gamers (M = .5). In turn, both Quakers (M = -.8) and Starcrafters (M = -.5) experienced more distrust than Everquesters (M = .03) reported an increase for the same adjective (p<.01; p<.05). Lastly, Quake (M = -.5) and Starcraft (M = -.4) players became more nervous/anxious while playing than did Everquest (M = .3) gamers become less nervous/anxious (p<.01; p<.01).

Time played per week did not correlate significantly with any of the real life or within game adjectives.

 

 

 

Aggression - imitation versus catharsis

As presented in Table 1, across all games, a correlation matrix revealed that self-rated aggression while playing was significantly correlated in a positive direction with aggression (r = .24, p<.05), competitiveness (r = .29, p<.05), uncooperativeness (r = .17, p<.05), and ambition (r = .18, p<.05) exhibited in real life. Boldness reported within the games was correlated positively with aggression (r = .20, p<.05), competitiveness (r = .27, p<.05), arousal (r = .23, p<.05), boldness (r = .34, p<.05), spontaneity (r = .21, p<.05), impracticality (r = .20, p<.05), and ambition (r = .25, p<.05) outside of the playing realm. In addition, arousal when engaged in a gaming session was positively correlated in real life with aggression (r = .13, p<.05), competitiveness (r = .13, p<.05), and impracticality (r = .14, p<.05).

When correlation analyses were repeated using only subjects who played over thirty hours a week, salient associations gained strength. For these subjects, aggression within the game was more strongly correlated with aggression (r = .31, p<.05) and competitiveness (r = .46, p<.05) outside the game. Boldness while playing was also more strongly correlated with competitiveness (r = .37, p<.05), arousal (r = .52, p<.05), spontaneity (r = .42, p<.05), and ambition (r = .47, p<.05).

Between games, only Everquest players exhibited significant correlations for aggression related adjectives. Among all Everquest players, aggression within the game was positively correlated with aggression (r = .35, p<.05), and competitiveness (r = .29, p<.05) rated in general, and this association increased when only the subjects playing over thirty hours a week were considered: aggression (r = .44, p<.05), competitiveness (r = .40, p<.05). Moreover, boldness exhibited within Everquest was correlated with competitiveness (r = .26, p<.05), arousal (r = .31, p<.05), and boldness (r = .35, p<.05) outside the game, of which the arousal correlation increased when subjects were sorted for over thirty hours a week (r = .56, p<.05). Finally, arousal within the game was positively associated with aggression in real life (r = .31, p<.05).

 

Table 1. Correlations between Within Game and Real Life Aggression Related Adjectives Across All Games

 

Aggression (RL)

Competitive

(RL)

Uncooper-

ative

(RL)

 

Ambition

(RL)

 

Arousal

(RL)

Spontaneity

(RL)

Impractical

(RL)

 

Aggression (G)

.24

.29

.17

.18

NS

NS

NS

Boldness (G)

.20

.27

NS

.25

.23

.21

.20

Arousal (G)

.13

.13

NS

NS

NS

NS

.14

All values are significant at the p<.05 level.

RL = Adjective rated for real life.

G = Adjective rated for within the game.

 

 

Female Gamers

A between gender, across games ANOVA indicated a trend towards increased reported agreeableness [F(1,227) = 3.65, p=.06; M(female) = 35.7, M(Male) = 33.1] and extraversion [F(1,227) = 3.16, p = .08; M(Female) = 33.9, M(Male) = 31] for the female gamers (n(Female) = 24; n(Male) = 205).

A between gender ANOVA for the Quake subjects alone revealed that Quake females (n = 10) were self-rated as significantly more agreeable [F(1,52) = 4.38, p<.05; M(Female) = 36.2, M(Male) = 32] and extraverted [F(1,52) = 5.13, p<.05; M(Female) = 37.8, M(Male) = 32.11] than the male Quake (n = 44) subjects.

No gender personality differences were found for players of Everquest (n(Female) = 11; n(Male) = 80). The inadequacy of the female Starcraft subject sample rendered relevant gender analyses for that group infeasible (n = 3).

With regard to adjective lists one and two, a paired samples T-Test revealed that female Quake gamers (n = 10) stated they were significantly less introspective while engaged in Quake. [T(52) = -2.37, p<.05; M(list 1) = 2, M(list2) = 3] than in real life. Additionally, a trend toward significance was found for the adjective self-controlled as females rated themselves less self-controlled within the game [T(52) = -2.09, p = .07; M(list1) = 1.8, M(list2) = 2.5].

For Everquest, a T-Test reported that females became more aggressive [T(89) = 2.69, p<.05; M(list1) = 3.27, M(list2) = 2.64], less creative/imaginative [T(89) = -2.39, p<.05; M(list1) = 2, M(list2) = 2.4], and less introspective [T(89) = -2.63, p<.05; M(list1) = 1.9, M(list2) = 2.5] while playing.

An ANOVA between male and female adjective ratings for each game indicated that among Quake subjects, females were significantly more happy [F(1,52) = 7.39, p<.01; M(Female) = 1.7, M(Male) = 2.6] in real life, and exhibited a trend towards rating themselves as more ambitious [F(1,52) = 3.25, p = .08; M(Female) = 1.7, M(Male) = 2.3] generally. Males rated themselves as significantly more distrustful in real life than females did [F(1,52) = 4.39, p<.05; M(Female) = 4.3, M(Male) = 3.55]. While playing Quake, males' self-ratings suggested they were significantly more aggressive [F(1,52) = 7.4, p<.01; M(Female) = 2.1, M(Male) = 1.4] than females, and their scores approached significance in the same direction for the adjectives competitive [F(1,52) = 3.5, p = .07; M(Female) = 1.7, M(Male) = 1.3] and distrustful [F(1,52) = 3.67, p = .07; M(Female) = 3.5, M(Male) = 2.7].

No gender differences were found for Everquesters in real life, though within Everquest, females described themselves as significantly more warm [F(1,89) = 4.62, p<.05; M(Female) = 1.64; M(Male) = 1.18], and approached significance in rating themselves more introspective [F(1,89) = 3.38, p =.069; M(Female) = 1.91, M(Male) = 2.39] than their male counterparts.

 

Character Gender

Of the 89 (n(male ) = 78, n(female) = 11) valid responses to gender bending query (of which, by reason of game design, respondents were only from the Everquest grouping), 21 (23.6%) currently played a character of the opposite gender, while 68 (76.4%) did not. All subjects answering in the affirmative direction were male. The two groups did not differ on any of the Big 5 personality dimensions.

An ANOVA indicated that the non gender-bending subjects rated themselves as significantly more introspective in real life than those who did gender-bend within Everquest. [F(1,87) = 7.46, p<.01; M(bend) = 2.8, M(no bend) = 2.2]. Among adjective ratings for within Everquest, an ANOVA reported that gender-benders (M = 1.7) rated themselves as significantly more ambitious than did non gender-benders (M = 2.3; F(1,87) = 5.75, p<.05). Two non significant trends were also found as it was revealed that those who gender-bend felt more guilty (M(bend) = 3.5, M(no bend) = 3.9; F(1,87) = 3.82, p = .05) and creative/imaginative (M(bend) = 1.9, M(no bend) = 2.3; F(1,87) = 3.45, p = .07) within the game than those who did not.

 

Free Time

Leisure Activities. As presented in Figure 3, coding revealed that 57.4% of Quake players listed sports as a favorite leisure activity, 44.7% listed reading, 40.7% listed watching television/movies/listening to music, and 31.5% said they worked with web page design or computer programming. In addition, 29.9% of the Quake subjects included spending time with friends as a leisure activity, and 7.4% listed sexual relations. For Everquest, 73.6% of the respondents listed reading as a favorite leisure activity, 54.9% listed sports, and 29.7% stated they enjoyed utilizing other computer applications during their free time. Also, 27.5% indicated that their times of respite included watching television/movies or listening to music, 20.9% stated they played real life fantasy role playing, and 14.3% listed spending time with friends. Again, a minority of subjects stated sexual relations were an aspect of leisure (2.7%). Starcraft respondents also most frequently replied that sports were a favorite free time activity (54.8%), while 42.9% stated they enjoyed reading. 28.6% used their extra time for other computer activities, 27.4% listed socializing with friends, 21.4% enjoyed watching television/movies or listening to music, and 4.8% stated they engaged in real life fantasy role playing. A small percentage listed sexual relations as a leisure activity (1.2%).

Table 3. Percentage of Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft Subjects Listing Various Leisure Activities[39]

Leisure Activities

Sports

Reading

TV/Movies/Music

Computer Applications

Friends

Table-top Role Playing

Sexual Relations

Quake

57.4%

44.7%

40.7%

31.5%

29.9%

0%

7.4%

Everquest

54.9%

73.6%

27.5%

29.7%

14.3%

20.9%

2.7%

Starcraft

54.8%

42.9%

21.4%

28.6%

27.4%

4.8%

1.2%

 

Addictive Behaviors. Of the 229 total subjects, 18 (7.9%) included drinking/drugs (11; 4.8%) or gambling (7; 3.1%) in a free response question regarding favorite leisure activities. Six of the subjects were found in the Quake sample, five were Starcrafters, and seven were Everquest subjects.

 

Non Repressive Sublimation

It was predicted that if video games provide an outlet for non repressive sublimation, reported feelings of contentment, satisfaction, wholeness, and self-understanding in real life would be strongly associated with the in game expiation of instinctual urges through strongly aggressive activity.

As shown in Table 2, across Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft, the adjective pairing satisfied/sated, rated for real life, correlated significantly for the within game adjectives of thorough (r = .13, p<.05), and self-controlled (r = .15, p<.05). The adjective pair complete/whole, rated for real life, correlated positively with creativite/imaginative (r = .14, p<.05), thorough (r = .20, p<.05), introspective (r = .15, p<.05), and warm (r = .17, p<.05), and negatively with uncooperativeness (r = -.20, p<.05), all rated for while subjects were engaged in gaming. Happy, when rated as an adjective describing a real life quality, correlated with adjectives while gaming such as thorough (r = .19, p<.05), introspective (r = .14, p<.05), warm (r = .15, p<.05), and negatively with uncooperative (r = -.14. p<.05). Unique/Nonconforming, when rated as a real life adjective, correlated with the within game adjectives of creative/imaginative (r = .27, p<.05), and introspective (r = .15, p<.05).

 

 

 

 

Table 2. Correlations between Within Game and Real Life Non Repressive Sublimation Related Adjectives Across All Games

 

Thorough

(G)

Self-Controlled

(G)

Creative/

Imaginative

(G)

Introspective

(G)

Warm

(G)

Uncooperative

(G)

Satisfied/Sated (RL)

.13

.15

NS

NS

NS

NS

Complete/

Whole

(RL)

.20

NS

.14

.15

.17

-.20

Happy

(RL)

.19

NS

NS

.14

.15

-.14

Unique/Non-

Conforming

(RL)

NS

NS

.27

.15

NS

NS

All values are significant at the p<.05 level.

RL = Adjective rated for real life.

G = Adjective rated for within the game.

 

When correlations were repeated with a subject population of only those players who game over thirty hours a week, the real life adjectives satisfied/sated, complete/whole, happy, and unique/nonconforming were respectively correlated with the in game adjectives of distrust (r = .30, p<.05), introspection (1. complete/whole: r = .43, p<.05; 2. happy: p = .48, p<.05 ), and creative/imaginative (r = .30, p<.05).

 

Age Effects

Analyses comparing groups of older and younger subjects within each game were precluded as the average age of subjects diverged significantly between the three games (Quake = 23.3; Everquest = 25.7; Starcraft = 18.3; see subject description above for further analysis). Correlational analyses, however, revealed that across all subjects, age was significantly correlated with agreeableness (r = .24, p<.001) and extraversion (r = .13, p<.05). Within Everquest, age was positively correlated with aggreableness (r = .28, p<.01) and negatively associated with neuroticism (r = -.21, p< .05). For Starcraft, age correlated significantly with agreeableness (r = .27, p<.05) and conscientiousness (r = .22, p<.05).

For the real life adjectives, among all subjects, age was negatively correlated with introspective (r = -.13, p<.05) and warmth (r = -.18, p<.01). For the within game adjectives and across all games, age was positively associated with competitiveness (r = .17, p<.05), and satisfied/sated (r = .18, p<.01). For Everquest, age was significantly correlated with the within game adjectives of complete/whole (r = .23, p<.05), satisfied/sated (r = .24, p<.05), and happy (r = .3, p<.01). The within game adjective creative (r = .23, p<.05) was significantly associated with age for the Starcraft subjects.

Age did not correlate within or across the three games with respect to hours per week played or proficiency.

 

Proficiency

Subjects did not differ between conditions for self-ratings of proficiency as reported by an ANOVA [Quake M = 3.5, SD = 1; Everquest M = 3.6, SD = .9; Starcraft M = 3.7, SD = .9].

When subjects in each game were categorized as high or low end gamers in relation to their number of hours played per week, as described above, an ANOVA reported that high end Everquest subjects (M = 3.8) were significantly more proficient (F(1,89) = 21.03, p<.001) than low end players (M = 3). High and low end subjects did not differ on proficiency for Quake and Starcraft.

 

Independent Everquest Analyses

Only Everquest provides subjects with opportunities to virtually embody personas of one's creation with multifaceted attributes and characteristics, thus additional analyses were performed on these subjects independently of Quake and Starcraft, games in which the opportunities for self expression are more limited. Quake allows one to choose from one of six pre-established characters while playing, yet the characters vary little and confer little difference on the outcome of the game. In Starcraft one must choose to be an overlord of one of three different races, yet the gamer is not really a character within the game.

Correlational analyses revealed that most real life adjective ratings correlated significantly and positively with identical within game adjectives for Everquest. That is, the adjective aggressive, rated in real life, correlated significantly with the adjective aggressive rated for within the game (r = .35, p<.05). Other adjectives exhibiting the same pattern included: self-controlled (r = .25[40]), distrustful (r = .32), spontaneous (r = .33), happy (r = .22), impractical (r = .29), guilty (r = .47), warm (r = .25), ambitious (r = .48), creative/imaginative (r = .60), competitive (r = .28), thorough (r = .28), unique/nonconforming (r = .33), bold (r = .35), uncooperative (r = .43), introspective (r = .25), and satisfied/sated (r = .29).

Eleven fantasy races were represented in the Everquest sample based on a coding of each subject's most frequently played character. Races and frequencies included: Human (16), Half Elf (15), Wood Elf (8), High Elf (6), Barbarian (7), Dark Elf (4), Erudite (5), Dwarf (6), Gnome (6), Troll (3) and Halfling (3). No significant personality differences were found between individuals of each race based on a Big Five ANOVA.

Additionally, fourteen fantasy classes (characterizations), paired with the races, were represented in the sample. Classes and frequencies were as follows: Warrior (12), Ranger (12), Cleric (10), Wizard (9), Paladin (7), Druid (7), Magician (6), Shaman (4), Rogue (4), Monk (4), Enchanter (4), Bard (3), Shadowknight (1), and Necromancer (1). Classes were first subdivided into "fighters" and "casters". Classes which fought only with magic spells were placed into the caster category, while classes which did not deal in magic and fought with physical might were classified as fighters. Thus, fighters included Warriors, Paladins, Shadowknights, Rangers, Rogues, and Monks, while casters included Bards, Clerics, Druids, Shamans, Enchanters, Magicians, Necromancers, and Wizards. In all, 40 subjects (47.6%; 34 males, 6 females) were fighters and 44 subjects (52.4%; 39 males, 5 females) were casters. An ANOVA indicated no statistically significant personality differences between the two classes. Differences were also not found for the real life adjective ratings. For adjective list 2, fighters (M = 2.2) rated themselves as significantly more happy [F(1,82) = 6.36, p<.05] within the game than did casters (M = 1.8).

Classes were further subdivided into the categories of "fighters", "healer-casters", and "nonhealer-casters." Healer-casters are classes which can use magic to heal other characters, while nonhealer-casters cannot. The same six classes remained in the fighter grouping. Healer-casters included Bards, Clerics, Druids, and Shamans, and nonhealer-casters were Enchanters, Magicians, Necromancers, and Wizards. Again, 40 subjects were classified as fighters (47.6%; 34 male, 6 female), and 21 subjects were classed as nonhealer casters (25%; 19 male, 2 female). 23 subjects were listed as healer-casters (27.4%; 20 male, 3 female). An ANOVA revealed no personality or real life adjective differences between the three groups. For the within game adjectives, significant differences were found for the adjectives aggressive [F(2,81) = 3.73, p<.05], creative/imaginative [F(2,81) = 3.34, p<.05], bold [F(2,81) = 3.31, p<.05], and happy [F(2,81) = 3.68, p<.05]. Tukey HSD post hoc tests reveled that nonhealer-casters (M = 2) rated themselves as more aggressive within the game than did healer-casters (M = 2.8; p<.05). Nonhealer-casters (M = 1.7) also rated themselves as more creative/imaginative than did healer-casters (M = 2.3; p<.05), and additionally as more bold (M(nonhealer-caster) = 1.8, M(healer-caster) = 2.4; p<.05). Finally, healer-casters (M = 1.7) rated themselves as significantly more happy within the game than did fighters (M = 2.2; p<.05).

***

In sum, Quake offered the most aggressive, arousing, and competitive experience. The Everquest experience, in contrast, allowed for the greatest degree of cooperation, warmth, and self-control, while players rated Starcraft as an intermediate experience in comparison to the other two games.

Everquest players were the oldest, played their game of choice for the greatest number of hours per week, and were most involved in on-line gaming communities. Quake players tended to be more conscientious and open than Everquest players, as well as the most ambitious and aroused in real life, among all gamers. High end Quakers were found to be more extraverted than their low end counterparts, while low end Everquesters rated themselves as more agreeable and conscientious than the higher end Everquest players. Among extreme gamers, Quake players scored higher on scales of openness than did Everquest and Starcraft players. In general, greater hours played was related to decreased conscientiousness, as well as greater neuroticism among Everquest players.

Female gamers rated themselves as more extraverted than did male subjects, and rated the in game experience of Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft similarly to the males.

Among all games, age was positively linked with agreeableness and extraversion. In addition, for Everquest gamers, age was negatively correlated with neuroticism.

Across games, subjects did not differ on proficiency, very few subjects stated they engaged in potentially addictive activities while not gaming, and self-rated aggression within each game tended to correlate positively with aggression in real life. Finally, the presence of a non repressive sublimation effect appears in serious doubt, as adjectives suggestive of satisfaction and a feeling of wholeness in real life were not associated with the in game expiation of aggressive and sexual urge-related adjectives.

Discussion

Three complementary yet divergent viewpoints have been presented regarding the psychic underpinnings of cyberspace experiences. Each contends the mental salience of cyberspace exists through its power to be used as a reflexive tool for those who enter its evolving matrix. That is, cyberspace becomes a vehicle for the mutability of self, within both a virtual and physical realm. Here that phenomenon has been investigated using the on-line video games of Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft as templates.

Turkle suggests the psychic changes associated with virtual encounters expose the self as a postmodern entity - scattered, decentered, and fluid. One's ability to construct new selves and excavate hidden others allows the user to shatter modernist models of identity which enforce an ontology of oneness. As a result, who the user "is" is constrained only by the depths of imagination and desire. Life itself comes to imply existence both on the screen and outside of it, as no one self is seen as more real than any other. Through this intense and complicated manipulation of various roles in cyberspace, Turkle asserts that the meaning of "I" is defined with a diversity of meaning never before possible.

Stephen Talbott also believes cyberspace catalyzes a postmodern aesthetic of identity -- but at the expense of a stark abdication of consciousness. As opposed to gaining self-insight through role-play, Talbott states that existence in cyberspace occurs at the margins of awareness, that one's behaviors become linked with automation. This automation is controlled by instinctual impulses of which the user is unaware, though she nevertheless believes her actions to be conscious. Thus in Talbott's terms, "the head has been severed from the heart," (1995, p.12) and this split is inapplicable to the possibility of existential self-betterment.

It has here been suggested that both Turkle and Talbott err in the assumption that cyberspace cultivates a multiplicity of self. A psychodynamic reappraisal of identity in cyberspace instead suggests that by allowing users to behave in overtly aggressive manners with societal impunity, all the while fulfilling fantasies of primal content in ways which blend the real and the virtual, the ego self encounters its id counterpart, achieving an unification of identity difficult in real life. This process of non repressive sublimation, a term borrowed from Marcuse (1966, p.208), represents the synthesis of Turkle's thesis and Talbott's antithesis. Turkle's notion of introspective role playing, leading to an unmatched self-epistemology, has been combined with Talbott's ideas regarding the unconscious and automatic behavioral mechanisms of cyberspace. The resulting framework asserts that video games, as a microcosm of cyberspace, can be used to play out (unconscious) fantasies of self, leading to both an unparalleled understanding of identity as a singular psychic entity, and ultimately, existential satisfaction.

Research presented in this study, however, suggests that in practice all three theoretical positions suffer from a reductionist simplicity, and in isolation fail to adequately serve as a general model for the psychological mechanisms of intense cyberspace activity, in this case defined as the playing of video games.

Two overarching reasons for this seem apparent. First, each game offers a very different experience for the game player. Although this point was intuitively clear at the outset, it was not recognized that the gaming experiences were so divergent that in each case the psychological impact of the game would be dissimilar. It had been assumed that although game play varied between Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft , their effects on the user would be largely uniform; isolating the consequences to "non repressive sublimation" now appears a glib assumption. Secondly, it is presently apparent that game players are drawn to each game for a wide diversity of reasons, due not only to a certain personality rubric. Again, although it was initially hypothesized that personality played a large role in why people play the games they do, personality per se should not have been so narrowly defined as to encompass only the dimensions of the Big Five. Rationales for playing are much more complex. It is now clear that the needs fulfilled by each game cannot be simply reduced to those of instinctual drive states - there is a much more subtle and complex story to be told. Users are pulled towards a specific game due to the quality of its experience, or the psychic impact it can effect, and this choice is mediated in part by the diverse array of needs (unconscious or conscious), couched in personality, which make up the game playing population.

The therapeutic experience of each game, and the needs of each playing population can now be discussed.

 

 

The Quantitative Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft Experience

Quake

On the basis of quantitative, albeit subjective, evidence, the experience of each game is unique. Quake appears to have lived up to its billing as "the ultimate deathmatch," as within game adjective ratings suggest a furiously combative experience. Subjects stated they became more aggressive, bold, and distrustful while also less warm, useful traits for a game in which teamwork does not exist and whose mantra could be "kill or be killed." Within minutes, subjects have either slaughtered up to seven other on-line opponents or have lost their own virtual life as many as twenty times. Thus, an increase in spontaneity and a decrease in self-control are also not surprising, since time is of the essence. As caustic personal taunts from other players fill up the chat screen, one believes the subjects when they suggest they feel greatly competitive within the game. Additionally, the death of one's character signals not only defeat but also the spattering of one's own viscera on the metallic "playing" surface, accompanied by the sounds of death throes - one understands why players also report feeling a great increase in nervousness and anxiety.

Through it all, however, players continue to return for more punishment, possibly explained by the fact they rated themselves as significantly more happy in Quake than in real life. Moreover, the pure speed of play and need for lightening reaction times, leaving little room for thought, makes clear why subjects stated they were less creative/imaginative and introspective while engaged in Quake.

Reported decreases in guilt and arousal are somewhat puzzling. The latter decrease may be function of the repetitious nature of game play and the very similar settings seen many times over. As a result, play may become almost automatic, that is, so thoughtless that identifiable arousal while playing might have ceased after the first hundred hours of play - being aggressive and bold in the game begins to seem natural, and game play in turn becomes relaxed -- ultimately a leisure activity. The decrease in feelings of guilt may also be explained with a similar argument. As an activity with very little thought, self-control, and great spontaneity, a sort of mental moratorium while playing is suggested. Guilt, in opposition, would seem to require a good deal of psychic energy, thus would not be present within Quake.

Everquest

Rating themselves as more aggressive and bold within Everquest as opposed to in real life highlights the battle component of the game. Indeed, in order to gain strength, materials, and helpful attributes to explore the fantasy world thoroughly, characters must slay an array of beings, increasing in experience levels along the way. Since attaining the highest level, level fifty, may require over two hundred hours of play (most intense Everquesters have a few such characters), it is clear why players rated themselves as more ambitious while in the game - Everquest is a serious commitment.

Additionally, at base, Everquest is its own world with many treasures to uncover, areas to explore, missions to complete, and people to meet; one might equally argue a large part of the Everquest experience involves an aesthetic component, enjoying the mystic landscapes and fantasy islands, thus, players appropriately rated themselves as thorough in the game. At the same time, the game has no tangible rules, story line, or expected course of action, thus players are free to exploit the spontaneity game play allows for, and of which players rated themselves highly within the game. As any good Everquester soon realizes, one's character will not stay alive for long without joining with a group of other virtual characters whose skills can be combined to become deeply entrenched in the fantasy - it is in this sense players likely rated themselves as more cooperative and warm toward their fellow players than in real life. In addition, many (perhaps most) characters in the game choose to be known as "non player killers", meaning they agree not to kill other (non computer) characters, again, a cooperative and warm characteristic.

Gamers also rated themselves as more happy in the game than outside of it. This may be due to the fact that real life is a forced reality, whereas Everquest can serve as reality of one's own making. In many ways, so much of the action is within the player's own control, and one is free to act and look like however one chooses, with no social constraints. This natural freedom may also explain the increase in the feeling of satisfaction within the game, as well as the decrease of nervousness or anxiety - very little is unexpected, unless one chooses to search out situations with surprises. The decrease in creativity/imagination and introspection reported may attest to the fact for most users the game ceases to be a game, it is life. Those decreases suggest that the players are not promulgating some sort of complicated façade which would imply mental effort but are playing their various characters in a natural fashion - it takes little creativity or introspection to play a part of oneself.

Like Quake, the decreases in arousal as well suggest that life in Everquest may be relaxing, or so natural it hardly feels like playing a game as one would be traditionally understood. Finally, the decrease in in-game guilt likely relates back to the behavioral freedom allowed in Everquest, for there is no "over lord" to create social standards which might arouse guilt if broken. Additionally, the fact most players rate themselves as cooperative and warm within the game, along with the rewards inherent in the game for altruistic behavior, implies few characters practice deviant actions.

Starcraft

The in game experience of Starcraft is in some ways consistent with Quake in that game play is quick, intense, and unforgiving. As commander and chief of a functioning battle station needing to obliterate other alien races, the reported increase of aggression, competitiveness, and boldness is logical, as is the decrease in warmth. Indeed, Starcraft is an aggressive game in which by readying troops, munitions, supplies, and strategy -- sending them to destroy, boldness is rewarded. In turn, the nature of the game is highly competitive as chat windows allow opponents to shout words of discouragement and taunts. Teaming up with other on-line players is possible, but only occurs in an effort to create more destruction, hence the decrease in reported warmth.

The essence of gameplay involves building strategies for attacking the enemy and protecting one's own troops, not unlike a real war. As one is presented with only her own a small view of the entire battle site, an attack may come at any moment, from any side. In turn, subjects' state they experienced increases in distrust and nervousness/anxiety. As a result, however, high ratings of happiness and satisfaction suggest that players may take great pride in their ability to do battle, and may feel a sense of great ownership when a plan is well carried out. This likely accounts for such sanguinity. The fact that so much of the action in Starcraft is reactive, that is, one must adjust one's strategy according to what others exhibiting may account for the reported lessening of self-control within the game.

The decrease in creativity/imagination and uniqueness/nonconformity within the game is somewhat of a surprise, but may relate to the fact that even though there are an infinite amount of battle strategies available to a commander in Starcraft, there appears to be a very small margin of error with regard to which strategies will result in a victory. Thus, the decrease in creativity and uniqueness may reflect a sense that the game brings with it somewhat of a pre-established protocol as to what will work in what situation, and it is the players' job to figure that out, as opposed to simply creating a strategy anew. A good Starcraft player may be one who understands what is required in a certain scenario, deviating little from that mold. Indeed, in a real life battle, an independent and free spirited General is not what one would consider a prototypical leader. An identical argument likely explains why introspection is reported as decreasing within Starcraft . An intricate knowledge of the self is unlikely to be important when commanding over two hundred armed troops. The stated decrease in within game guilt might reflect the players' role as a worthy commander in chief. It suggests that gamers take on a Machiavellian attitude while in battle, that they are willing to put as many lives at risk as it takes to achieve victory -- there will be no emotional turning back or second thoughts - as a desired end, victory can justify any means. The decrease in arousal may also be part and parcel of this same idea. Starcraft requires a great leader, and a great leader is usually one able to be calm and collected even in the face of catastrophe. When decisions must be made at lightening speed, there is little room for hyper-arousal leading to irrational or even suicidal commands.

 

Between games

Differences between the within game adjective ratings for each game also provide insight into how the experiences of Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft diverge. Most of the differences are intuitive, based on game play, and were predicted.

Quake. Ratings reveal, perhaps not surprisingly, that the Quake experience is the most bellicose and intensely war-like. Although all three games are aggressive to an extent, Quake players rated themselves as more aggressive than did Everquest and Starcraft players, more competitive and aroused than did the Everquest gamers, and more bold than did Starcraft players.

Everquest. The relative ratings of Everquest gamers, in contrast, suggests a more cerebral and community environment. Everquest players were significantly self-rated more warm than were Quake or Starcraft players. They were also more self-controlled and trusting than Quakers rated themselves , as well as more cooperative than Starcraft and Quake gamers. They also rated the overall experience as less competitive than did Quake and Starcraft users, and felt less aroused in their world compared to Quake players' ratings.

Starcraft. Starcraft, as was assumed at the outset, provided an intermediate experience between the other two games. Starcraft players, not unlike Quakers, rated themselves as more competitive, uncooperative, and less warm in the game than those who play Everquest, yet in turn rated themselves as significantly less aggressive and bold than Quake players. Additionally similar to Everquest players, Starcraft players also rated the in game experience as requiring more introspection than in Quake players rated their milieu. In all, it appears the Starcraft experience is part of a competitive, cold and somewhat aggressive world, though one also marked by the need for some degree of thoughtful analysis in battle.

These encapsulations are also supported by the degree to which descriptive adjectives increase or decrease from real life to within the game. Some self-ratings, it seems, are especially affected by each game in comparison to the others. Ratings again suggest that the Quake experience is the most combative, while Starcraft appeared to prod a mixture of belligerence and thought. For instance, Quake players reported the greatest real life to within game increase in aggressiveness compared to both other games, and also experienced a greater increase in spontaneity than did Starcraft players. Moreover, the decrease in warmth and increase in distrust reported by both Quake and Starcraft players was greater than the increase in warmth and decrease in distrust for Everqesters within the game. Additionally, Quake and Starcraft gamers registered a greater degree of increase for nervousness/anxiousness than Everquest players decreased. Between just Quake and Starcraft, the former stated a greater decrease in introspection than did the latter.

Supporting the idea that Everquest seems to nurture an almost communal environment, the only adjective in which Everquesters experienced a greater increase or decrease than either of the other two games was for the adjective uncooperative, which decreased to a greater degree than it did for Starcraft. There was also only one adjective concerning Starcraft which on its own differed, as those players reported a greater increase in competitiveness than Everquest players.

In all, Quake appears to have the broadest effect in exacerbating experiential qualities, while Everquest and Starcraft have environments which effect changes to lesser degrees and for fewer adjectives. The Quake environment, on its own, appears to ensure extreme aggression, spontaneity, anti-introspection, and along with Starcraft prods great coldness, distrust, and nervousness. Everquest is an environment causing the greatest degree of cooperation, while Starcraft the greatest increase in competitiveness.

Such results offer few surprises. The environment of Quake appears to be the most one-sided, offering an area to play out violence, destruction, and to use quick reflexes, but little else. Starcraft and Everquest are better seen as hybrids. Both include violence as a large component of game play, but Everquest is primarily concerned with social interaction and group behavior, hence the increase in cooperation, while Starcraft is largely a game of strategy. The greatest degree of increase in competitiveness for Starcraft then might be connected to the very personal nature of the outcome of a contest - a victory or a defeat is a statement about one's intellectual and analytical ability, thus there is great incentive to be concerned about winning or losing.

To sum up the quantitative analysis relating to the in game experience of each game, an analogy may be useful. It is clear all three games involve a large component of aggression, and for that reason each game may have its analog with a position in a nation's Department of Defense. The characteristics of the Quake experience, one might argue, are analogous to the experience of being in the infantry, prodding great boldness, extreme aggression, little warmth, high spontaneity, distrust, and anxiety. One's duty is to fight and kill with little fore or after-thought, following orders from a higher power, in this case the computer code providing the strict parameters of game play. The Everquest experience is reminiscent of the world of a diplomat. Aggression is necessary, but only to an extent; more important are one's abilities to be cooperative, trusting, cool under pressure, self-controlled and especially ambitious, never giving up. Day to day life is that of social interaction and one's ability to work well within a group may determine success or failure. Starcraft likens the gamer to a General. The player is spurred to be intensely competitive within the battle, strategizing and organizing attacks and defense, without ever personally fighting. The player must be somewhat aggressive, but not too bold, sticking within the framework of feasibility. At the same time, there is little room for warmth and the unexpected nature of the battles make one nervous, as if much is beyond one's control. When the battle goes as planned, the experience elicits a great feeling of satisfaction for the player.

Unlike the individual differences in overall experience for the real world Private, Diplomat, or General, however, in each video game the environment is conducive to overall happiness, at least at an aggregate level, and all seem to obliterate the need for introspection. Indeed, there is little need for self-reflection when living out a self in a virtual world. The character one becomes through the game of one's choosing may be the product of a process of a priori introspection occurring in real life - the game, therefore, creates a tangible exposition of one's psyche. The Department of Defense, indeed - the defense of the ego.

 

In their own words: the Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft Experience

In many ways, a much more colorful and clearer understanding of the Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft experience may be gleaned from descriptions put forth by the players themselves.

 

Quake

The following quotation is representative of how many subjects describe their involvement with Quake - a frenetic, intense, and full body experience. It veers little from the description of which this report commenced, that of William Gibson's striking perception of the almost electric component involved in a child's transcendence into cyberspace.

"Quake is intense for me. I usually move my body with my character, I wince if he gets hit, I move my arms with the controller going around a tight corner. I get nervous if I have to make a big jump. I get excited if the game is moving quickly and I'm winning. I am as violent and crazy as [I] want to be."

 

Such vehement involvement is explained by this twenty-one year old male subject:

"The experience of Quake is different than other entertainment media because it involves the player in the action in a very personalized way, through views, and individualized sound patterns. It is a feeling akin to first person pov [point of view] handheld shots in film, but is intensely personalized because the player controls all the action and action is non-repeatable (i.e. each permutation of actions only occurs in the context of one particular game)."

 

What is particularly striking, however, is the extent to which Quake involvement can offer such a wide range of emotional experiences from basically similar scenarios. It is clear, for instance, that many, like this eighteen year old male, find Quake a far from relaxing activity:

"Whenever playing Quake I always feel nervous. Sports are less scary because you know exactly what's going to happen (e.g. you know that you're gonna get tackled if you run into a guy) whereas video game stuff is unknown. If you go around a corner, you could die! Who wants to die? As an unadventurous person that freaks me out."

 

In contrast, others (here, a twenty year old male) explain that Quake can actually be a joyful activity through its aggressive content.

"I experience happiness, particularly when kicking ass. It's different from those passive activities because I'm the one who's actively kicking ass, not just passively observing someone else kicking ass."

 

Most however, congruent with quantitative data, suggest that Quake is best viewed as a leisure activity of counterintuitively, little arousal, as this twenty-five year old male stated.

"I'm pretty into it - intense, I guess - it's a lot less stressful than anything else in a weird way, because I don't really feel like myself - even while watching a movie it's still me, staring at the screen, in Quake, at least I'm sort of a character."

 

Finally, many players stress that Quake remains a game of skill, that there is much more to the game play than a quick trigger finger.

"All the blood! There is just so much and gameplay is just so fast and amazing!! But you have to see the whole [board] over, but not at the expense of the parts - you have to keep the whole map in mind and the flow of the players in that map while remembering to pick up that needed health pack [a virtual medical kit to heal wounds]."

 

In all, gamers asserted that the first person point of view afforded by Quake makes for a frantic and emotional in game experience affecting them in a variety of manners, ranging from feelings of anxiety and fear to joy and stress relief. Players also stated that Quake is a complicated forum for activity involving not only reflexes but also unique intellectual skills, such as spatial visualization.

 

 

Everquest

 

The wide range of experiences provided for by Everquest was borne out by the amount of variance in subjects' descriptions of what the game offers. Many subjects focused on the amount of freedom one has in the game to make it a world of one's own. The following twenty-one year old female subject highlights the well recognized notion that the game may serve as a projective space to externalize players' own fantasies, as well as enabling gamers to focus on and create their own personal journeys in the vast space. She also speaks for many Everquesters who become attracted to the visual brilliance in many parts of the game, as if it were a product of one's own imagination.

 

"I like that my character has the freedom to migrate around and not pursue a linear path, going back to other scenes in which the monsters are fun to defeat. I find myself very drawn to some of the different characters/monsters that are in the world to either defeat or befriend, and I wind up unintentionally giving them certain personality characteristics and focusing on their patterns as a group. I become super involved with analyzing particular dynamics of the game and really elicit a preference to be in certain scenes. There is a strange aesthetic component of the experience. There is this one blue creature who pounces around - I'm particularly drawn to the particular blue of the creature and I like how they tend to be very generous in leaving particular periwinkle coins behind."

 

 

The competitive and aggressive aspects of Everquest are also made clear through the responses of many.

 

"There's a certain competitiveness in EQ: who can get to level 50 [the highest level] the fastest, who can collect the most loot, who can kill the most monsters, who can hit the hardest, who can duel and win the most. Etc, etc. etc." (Yee, 2000)[41]

 

"It's exciting, where else can you go out and kill people, animals, and giants all in one day? There's an entertainment value in fighting big monsters and finding great wealth with like minded people. Everyone can feel powerful. It should have definitely been called Everkill." (Yee, 2000)

 

 

A majority of subjects also asserted that much of the Everquest experience is tied to its interactive capabilities. The ability to meet others on-line, to enter the world with those one already knows in real life, and the capability for altruistic and even evil acts make Everquest a unique social experience.

 

"To me Everquest is nothing more than an IRC channel with a REALLY fancy GUI [graphic user interface] It's easy to get sucked into the experience because of the interaction with other people." (Male, 25)

 

"The people are what keep me here… I've met many people I consider to be friends, despite never having met them in real life. The people I always look for are a group that I've found to be intelligent, friendly, humorous and generally enjoyable to be around…the same things I would look for in people I hang around with in real life." (Female, 40; Yee, 2000)

 

"I have developed many very close relationships in the game and have actually gotten to know a group of five guildmates [players in her world] in real life when they came to my house for a real life guild party, travelling from all around the country to get here." (Female, 40; Yee, 2000)

 

As a result, players maintained that Everquest allows them to learn in ways not possible in most games, or even in real life.

"We as people are ALWAYS learning from Everquest, from everything we do. Learning cooperation, patience, control of frustration, tactics, communication skills, leadership and organization skills, the list goes on and on." (Yee, 2000)

 

"I have learned MORE French than a I did in 3 years of High School classes!" (Yee, 2000)

 

Thus, players stressed that Everquest is an aesthetic, competitive, interactive, and educational environment all at once, with the caveat that how one experiences the environment is contingent upon their in game definition of "self", a quite murky concept.

 

 

Starcraft

 

The Starcraft experience, as exhibited by player comments, did not elicit the same descriptive diversity of Everquest, and appears to be a more cerebral journey than a game of Quake. Players most frequently commented that the game provided a sense of being in charge or in a position of importance.

"You get to be a general overseeing a battle and trying to secure victory with minimal casualties. I don't usually send any troops into battle unless I'm certain they can win or pull out safely or cripple the enemy to such an extent that the battle will be won in time." (Male, 19)

 

Concomitant with that point was the notion that as a General of sorts, one's competency is intrinsically tied to one's analytical and strategic abilities within the game. Comments alluded to the idea that Starcraft was less of a game and more of test of a sort of real world skill.

"Everything is balanced; It comes down to skill. Someone will always be better than you, and you work to reach their level. It exercises my brain's analytical abilities against other people's analytical abilities." (Male, 15)

 

Needless to say, competition is intense and was a frequently reported aspect.

 

"I love imagining my opponent's facial expression when he loses all of his men to a plague followed by a darkswarm with hydras [type of attack]." (Male, 19)

 

In turn, the pleasure of gaming was most often linked to the infinite number of options at the disposal of the gamer as well as the wide variety of outcomes possible within a battle -- no two contents are ever alike. Such a point is quite reminiscent of the heterogeneity of experience inherent within Everquest.

 

"There is a lot of variation of tactics, it's the sort of thing that you can never quite finish or do everything on, and there is always room to improve. Just because you learned how to do a certain something doesn't necessarily mean that the strategy is either perfected or that it can't be done in another way. Variation alone makes it interesting." (Male, 21)

 

 

"There are completely different ways a game can start, play out, and end unlike other games that can only be won one way. Starcraft is never the same and you can play the same level different ways each time." (Male, 17)

 

 

Again similar to Everquest, the Starcraft adventure also provides the metaphor of a journey, even though neither game provides an intrinsic running story line to be followed. In both cases, players commence the game with few or no materials or items, while later on become laden with both; at that point the game builds momentum quickly. In Quake, by contrast, a powerful gun, ammunition, and possibly a bit of armor are all that is needed to succeed at any point in the game, and all may be garnered immediately as materials are scattered throughout the board ready to be taken.

 

"In Starcraft you start with hardly anything more than one building and a few mining machines, and you can build an entire army in 10-20 minutes and then go an a killing rampage against whomever else is playing." (Male, 21)

 

In total, Starcraft is described as somewhat of an intellectual experience, marked by intense competition, the necessity for quick decision making, and a variety of ultimate outcomes.

 

A Conceptual Trilogy

In all, short answer descriptions of the Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft experience do little to alter the original analogy of Quake allowing one to be a Private, Everquest a Diplomat (albeit one with weapons), and Starcraft a General. However, there is a nascent sense that if each game were mapped onto a three-dimensional plane according to their characteristics, Everquest and Starcraft would form the closest alliance.

Both games are similar in terms of the infinite manners the game can be played. In Starcraft, this is exhibited by way of a chosen strategy, whereas in Everquest this is clear in relation to the non-linear order of play and freedom to explore and interact. Quake offers very few like choices by way of game play.

It also appears that the type of skill involved in Quake is of a mechanical nature, whereas it is based in a more mental realm with Everquest and Starcraft. Quake is often referred to as a "twitch" game because competency is largely linked to speed of a button press. Competency in the other two games is much more complex, involving planning, interaction, and various cognitive components. Stemming from that notion, Quake may lack the potential for learning that appears present in both Everquest and Starcraft. The latter two require an internalization of strategy, tactical considerations, and planning to a degree which does not seem to be present in Quake, a game where practice may bring with it only heightened awareness of each board and a faster reaction time.

Moreover, although all three games are intense, there is a feeling that Quake embodies a sort of subjective intensity, an intensity springing from one's ability to empathize with a character in a traumatic situation. The intensity from Everquest and Starcraft, in contrast, arises out of a competitive framework. The games are competitive because the player is matching wits with another or must figure out a method of overcoming an opponent to gain a higher level. Additionally, the killing in Quake is meant to seem real - bullets are followed with blood. In the other games, killing is more mathematical - in Everquest an opponent perishes because their armor and stamina has deteriorated to such an extent that their "life continuum" no longer shows a certain color; in Starcraft killing is not even portrayed but is reported through numbers and theory.

The probable alliance between the experiences of Starcraft and Everquest is also shown through subjects' gaming patterns. According to what subjects reported regarding the types of game they currently played, the overlap between the genres of Everquest and Starcraft was much greater than the overlap for Quake and Everquest or Quake and Starcraft. In other words, 38.5% of Everquest subjects reported they currently played Starcraft-like games and 44% of Starcraft subjects reported they currently played Everquest-like games, while in contrast only 14.8% and 31.5% of Quake subjects stated they presently played Everquest and Starcraft-like games.

Likewise, there is also evidence that first person action games like Quake serve as something of a gateway game into the gaming world, that in the hierarchy of gaming experience, a subject is most likely to begin by playing a first person action game (Quake) and then move on to a real time strategy game (Starcraft) and then possibly a role playing adventure (Everquest). As evidence, a higher percentage of Everquest-like and Starcraft-like players play first person action games (34.1% and 47.6%) than first person action gamers play the other two genres (14.8% and 31.5%). At the same time, a greater percentage of Quake gamers have never played the Everquest (38.9%) and Starcraft-like (27.5%) games versus a lower percentage of the latter game players who have never played a first person action game (14.3% and 15.5%). Notice that Everquest-like games, as the apex of the hierarchy, are those games which are least played by the lowest point on the hierarchy (first person action games). Thus, through patterns of play, one gains a sense that through players' eyes, the experiences played out in Everquest and Starcraft are somehow more advanced and more closely linked[42] than another combination involving a game like Quake.

In addition, Starcraft and Everquest were similar to each other in relation to the scenarios in which the games were most often played, diverging from Quake. Whereas 72.2% of Quake subjects played Quake with others they had never encountered before in any setting, only 54.9% of Everquesters and 53.6% of Starcrafters reported the same response. And following, 27.8% of Quake subjects played with others in the game they knew in real life, registering a great divergence from Everquest and Starcraft subjects who played with such a scenario 51.6% and 50% of the time. Thus, Everquest and Starcraft are similarly conducive to playing with real world acquaintances, an attribute not present in Quake.

 

Why "I" Play - Quantitative Components

The discussion to this point has been concerned with the complexities of the in game experience across each gaming condition. It should now be apparent that any theory put forth regarding the psychological mechanisms underling cyberspace experiences must take into account the complexities involved from one setting to another. It appears such a step was not explicitly taken in the current research.

Moreover, a second issue requires unpacking. Of greatest import from a personality psychology standpoint, this study also underscores the immense intricacies regarding the reasons players are drawn into cyberspace or specifically, a particular game. Players in each gaming condition exhibited differing needs and rationalizations as to why their game of choice played such an important role in their life. As noted earlier, the hypotheses attempting to resolve that issue in this study were remarkably thin. The discussion now will attempt to clarify this issue.

Although it is obvious that at a general level, subjects are drawn to a particular game by the type of experience it can provide, analysis can still go further. Initial hypotheses argued that certain personality constellations, present and unique for each group of subjects, play a large part in leading gamers to their game of choice. In reality, not only were specific personality hypotheses not supported, but very few differences were unearthed at all, suggesting that personality variance is best discovered through more sensitive avenues.

Among all games, Quake subjects rated themselves as more conscientious and open than Everquest subjects. These results were directly contrary to a priori predictions. It had been assumed that since role playing games required the greatest time commitment and the highest diligence, forcing great attention to detail, those subjects would score the highest on the conscientiousness dimension. Quake players, by contrast, were assumed to be the least conscientious, since playing Quake requires a minimal time commitment and in comparison, immediate gratification. However, it is now clear such thinking was distorted. It appears that in actuality, the fact that Everquest subjects, on average, played for a significantly greater amount of time per week (twenty-three versus almost sixteen hours) impacted the degree to which daily activities were completed thoroughly and promptly, in turn greatly affecting the scoring of this Big Five dimension. Confusion within that explanation, however, exists with the fact that Starcraft subjects, playing on average the least amount of hours per week, (fifteen) should have therefore been rated more conscientious than the Quake subjects. Yet, an earlier discussion suggests that Starcraft requires a greater amount of mental effort than Quake. As a result, Quake subjects, aware that playing the game expends very little energy, might only play in times of leisure and after other important tasks have been completed, thus stay within the bounds of highly conscientious behavior. If playing Starcraft is not seen as so much of a leisure activity but as a daily necessity, even though subjects played it for less time, involvement might take away from other tasks which need to be attended.

The prediction that Everquest subjects would score significantly higher than Quakers for the openness dimension was supported by Yee (1999) and Carroll and Carolin's (1999) work with fantasy role playing subjects. Thus, the present result, in which Quake players scored most highly on Openness, casts doubt on the assumption that video game role players are similar to table top role players from a personality standpoint. The finding might be explained by pointing out that for Everquest subjects, being in the game does not feel like an alternate experience, it begins to feel like real life, just at a different subjective end of the "realness" continuum. Thus, those subjects would not be necessarily expected to be especially open since the gaming experience does not diverge (in a psychic sense) from the physical world. In contrast, the experience of Quake is highly anomalous in comparison to most real world situations. As a result, playing Quake for over fifteen hours a week would require a great deal of openness to experience.

Such paltry results fueled additional analyses between subjects who played each game above and below the median numbers of hours per week, in hopes a stronger effect would be uncovered. The results indicated that high end Quake subjects were rated as more extraverted than low end Quake subjects. Such a finding is not surprising, as a positive relationship between extraversion and hours of activity in a greatly anomalous and arousing environment would be predicted. Additionally, low end Everquest subjects were rated as more agreeable and more conscientious that the high end subjects. This is again not surprising, as less intense gamers are likely to pay more attention to the daily requirements of real world living, and thus would be more likely to answer in the positive direction for conscientiousness questions on the Big Five. The lower agreeableness score may highlight social conventions that are incongruous with the expenditure great amounts of time in a virtual world like Everquest. In turn, the subjects who play the least may be those who choose to follow and conform to social conventions - they are more agreeable.

Continuing a similar principle, personality ratings were also analyzed for subjects who played each game with extreme intensity, arbitrarily defined as over thirty hours a week. Among these subjects, Quake players rated themselves as significantly more open than did Everquesters and exhibited the same increased trend when compared to Starcraft gamers. Reasoning for this result mirrors the explanation given previously. Quake is posited to contain the most violent and aggressive experience of all three games, including a first person point of view with human characters, and requires the greatest willingness to be placed in a deviant setting, all in an attempt to achieve absolute realism of effect. In turn, Quake players should exhibit the greatest degree of openness to experience. Everquest, in contrast, becomes its own natural world in which openness may only be a salient characteristic when first exploring the game. Starcraft offers a top down point of view, appearing almost like an interactive board game many have experienced since childhood, thus it might not require such a difficult transition from real life into the game for those who are fulfilled by such an experience.

When the extreme hours players were compared to other gamers who claimed to play for less than thirty hours a week, the former group rated themselves as more conscientious than did the latter group. This is logical, as time spent video game playing necessarily takes away from the completion of other activities. The same result was uncovered when the analysis was restricted to only Quake players, and the same explanation applies.

When repeated for Everquest subjects, the high intensity group rated themselves as more neurotic than did the low intensity group. This may be an important finding, consistent with assumptions that high-end gamers are in some sense unstable. The fact that it only applies to Everquest is probably revealing. It suggests that the needs gamers bring to Everquest may be more directly rooted in issues of identity and stability than is true for Quake and Starcraft. Indeed, based on pure numbers, Everquest subjects are far more involved with their game than other subjects are involved in Starcraft and Quake. Whereas the conception of playing Everquest for over fifty hours a week is conceivable and even existent in this study, the notion seems inconceivable for Quake or Starcraft. Here, the high neuroticism finding for extreme players alludes to a notion that Everquest players seek out the game in hopes of gaining stability, something not emotionally mastered in the physical realm. Within the virtual, players can achieve an expansive locus of control over their own (and often others) attributes and actions[43], a fact which may be potentially therapeutic. It is a play space of their own design, a remedy for ailments of which only they know the cure. Of note, this predicted finding complements the work of DeRenard and Kline (1990) who reported that fantasy role players scored highly on a scale of cultural estrangement, suggesting worry and self-consciousness.

When real life adjective lists were compared, Quake subjects were rated as more ambitious than Everquest players and more aroused than Starcrafters. The arousal finding is common sensical. Quake appears to be the game providing the experience of highest intensity, thus one might assume its players have a high overall level of stimulation, gelling well with the experience Quake can provide. One might also assume, however, that Everquesters would rate themselves as the most ambitious, since the game defies "completion" in a traditional sense, but lends itself to hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of play, even just through exploration. The opposite finding, however, fits with the previous notion that Quake provides an experience that the average person, or even gamer, is least likely to inhabit, due to its extreme content. Thus, those who do play may live on the margins of "normal virtual behavior", and their ambitious attitudes prod them to continue in the unconventional and excessive setting.

Summing up, it is clear that salient differences between playing populations are not to be discovered primarily with Big Five and adjective data. Apparently, differences between gamers are more subtly rooted than first hypothesized and are of a nature not to be uncovered by self-report ratings and large scale multiple choice questionnaires. Even so, a definite trend was revealed which pointed to the general principle that those who play for the greatest amount of hours are the least conscientious. Additionally, Quake players tended to be more open than the other two gaming populations, and finally, a very select group of high end Everquesters are marked by a large degree of self-rated neuroticism.

 

In their own words - Why "I" Play Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft

A more precise method of analyzing the needs fulfilled by each game requires an investigation of subjects' personal thoughts on why each game plays an important life in their everyday behavior.

 

Quake

Although Quake would hardly be considered a truly social game in the tradition of Everquest, many players still stressed the importance of social interaction in their gaming experience. Males were especially apt to suggest that competing against friends they knew in real life was somewhat of a bonding experience, and at the same time was a way to earn the respect of their peers. Implicit in these statements was the idea that conversation relating to the within game experience is carried over into real life situations. Conversing in Quake is difficult (due to the speed and intensity of play) beyond terse statements typed into the mini-chat window located in the corner of the screen, but apparently the words that are carried over the Net carry great import to players, adding much to the experience. It is clear real life memories are borne out of Quake experience, and in reading various responses regarding this issue, one imagines the subjects as older adults, having drinks and conversing about especially memorable Quake scenarios that occurred years ago.

 

"Primarily, I'm into the social aspect of the multiplayer game in Quake. I enjoy competing against my friends for supremacy. In an odd way, I believe it strengthens the bonds of friendship; not only is there a common interest in the game (and a common topic of conversation), but friendship bonds are strengthened by the collective endeavor to "dethrone" the reigning champion, though there is still an element of respect/admiration for this member of the group." (Male, 21)

 

"It's fun to play video games AND be working with other real friends over the Net. The camaraderie reminds me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons (pen and paper game). Here, I love the ability to compete with others intensely from my own home in a closed, safe environment." (Male, 25)

 

In fact, this aspect of the game was primarily stressed by the small number of female gamers for whom the all-female Quake communities provided a strong draw. Additionally, whereas males couched the interactive capabilities in terms of a few close friends, females made reference to socializing with the entire Quake community as a holistic entity.

"I love the community - I enjoy playing with the same people all the time and fact that I am playing with real people instead of just computer created characters - this adds another level of competition and social interaction that otherwise wouldn't be there." (Female, 30)

 

Among players it was also clear that a major pull of the game was the state of the art graphics and thus the intrinsic realism. Almost every subject had something to say about the almost surreal, aesthetic quality to the worlds of war, using terms like "eye candy". It was as if players were somehow proud their game of choice was so pleasing to observe. Between the lines, one assumes the graphics add to the experience by making it easier for the player to connect with the brutal scenes, yet add just enough color to maintain the fantasy-like quality of Quake.

"The realism the game has evolved into has drawn me. I remember at first gazing at screens of Quake 3 and drooling all over myself, what with the curved 3D surfaces and all. Yeah, the graphics draw me in." (Male, 16)

 

"I like how you can customize your skin. It makes people more attached to the character." (Male, 24)

 

 

Not all players readily admitted that something about the violence and aggression in the game was extremely compelling, though many felt comfortable admitting the game was "great for stress relief", a term which in context tended to imply something about the gore was relaxing. Either the violence in the game was believed to be too obvious a draw to be mentioned or at some level players were themselves uncomfortable with how frequently they slaughtered others virtually. This twenty-three year old male is a good example of a subject who could admit the violence was attractive, though felt it necessary to add a conspicuous disclaimer.

"It is a real ego boost (in a sick way) to completely dominate someone."

 

Some players outright denied that violence played a role in drawing them to Quake.

"I'm think I'm interested in it more as a sport, rather than a gore-fest. That's what everyone sees when they look at it, but that's really just an extension of the game. I don't have that need." (Male, 19)

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, almost all players noted they enjoyed Quake because it offered an alternative world to inhabit for a few (or more than a few) hours per week. In addition, most players agreed that the characters they played in Quake were not extensions of themselves, but were just a way of playing out an alternate or fantasy self.

 

"My characters certainly don't represent me, I'm quite shy in real life and in Quake 3 I'm very vocal! I'm also a bit of a coward so if my character in Quake was true-to-life, I would run and hide in a corner waiting for someone to hit the frag [kill] limit!!" (Male, 14)

 

Subjects who claimed characters were an extension of self were careful not to refer to the outwardly violent aspects of the characters in the game. This point is interesting because in reality, characters do little in the game other than act as killing machines. As shown by this subject, however, some gamers were quite imaginative in using the virtual space for something other than a pure battlefield. This subject seems to admit to having both sensitive and brash characteristics in real life, perhaps making it easier for him to get personally involved with his on-line personas.

 

"My characters are an extension of myself. When I'm on Quake servers and I see someone having trouble, I help them out with tips and direct them to URL's with useful information and help. Other people I see I just criticize them and make them feel bad (eventually causing them to leave). When this happens I'm usually "on the hunt" for the bullies. (Male, 19)

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the female respondents were most willing to admit that the violent aspects of Quake were not part of some alternate self but were somehow tied to how they actually perceived themselves. In many ways their language signified a much clearer understanding of their motivations for play than the male subjects. Possibly these women use Quake for the specific purpose of social rebellion - using the medium as a way to exploit a part of themselves that is not at all congruent with real life social expectations for women.

"When I play Quake, my characters are mainly a vessel for me. I like to go for the characters that seem strong and powerful, which is how I'd like to be perceived in the real life." (Female, 18)

 

"I don't feel I play as a character - I play myself. Sure, I know the character shooting up the other team isn't ME, but I don't hide behind an online handle. I am the same person when I'm playing Quake as far as how I conduct myself as I am in the everyday world. The only time this is not the case is when I play under an alias. I often will be more aggressive…more abrasive…when I know it won't reflect back on me." (Female, 24)

 

Even this female respondent who claimed her Quake self was not part of her in real life made it a point to highlight that playing a male character is not an option - there is something important about securing her role as a woman in Quake.

"The character for me is just a tool, I don't think of it as a real person, though I will only play a female character." (Female, 23)

Thus, for Quake players, the game becomes a centerpiece for social interaction. For males this seemed to be connected to time spent together with a few real life friends, where for females, the social component of Quake was encapsulated by the entire on-line community, specifically the assortment of females-only Quake groups. For all players, Quake was compelling for its realistic graphics and potential for stress relief, though paradoxically, few players admitted the gore itself was a major draw. Those most likely to assert the latter were female players who saw their characters as an extension of self they could not be in real life, while males adamantly declared that their in game Quake personas had little to do with their true self.

 

Everquest

Very few games can match the possibilities Everquest provides in terms of interaction, freedom of movement, role playing, and fighting. As a result, the reasons people play are numerous, complex, and difficult to categorize. However, the free responses of players reveal that behind every Everquester is a story waiting to be told, and most are happy to oblige.

It is clear many gamers have done a good deal of thinking in regards to why people play Everquest. A common theme in answering this question involves the notion of escape. It appears that for most players, at the most basic level Everquest is akin to the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis's fantasy tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There, Lewis's main human character, a small, unhappy boy is able to escape from his real life by entering a porthole he discovers in the back of an old cabinet filled with clothes. Everquest is that porthole for many subjects, and it may even substitute for an unavailable physical world.

 

"I am a 100% Service-Connect Total and Permanent Disabled Vet. I use Everquest to escape life. I can do little else." (Male, 47)

 

Many of the subjects made overt value judgements based on the reasons people play. In the following three quotes, one notices a theme which recurs throughout many responses: many Everquesters are in some way emotionally troubled, as might be suggested by the earlier evidenced personality data. The irony, however, is clear, as all of the following subjects reportedly play Everquest for over twenty hours a week, an amount most non gamers would not find benign.

 

"There are those who play to escape and there are those who play to be free. There is a difference. In the former, there is no choice involved - either escape or be overwhelmed - but in the latter there is a conscious choice - leaving this world behind because it is boring. I think the former type of person is dangerous. The latter is just another kid playing a game." (Male, 21)

 

"I believe the majority of power gamers who play in excess of 36 hours a week are anti-social in real life and may have moderate to severe emotional problems. I think that a lot of typical EQ players generally have low self-esteem but feel comfortable hiding behind a mask where they can play a nimble, slim rogue or beautiful enchantress." (Male, 26)

 

"The power levelers, people with multiple level 50 characters, are recluse losers." (Male, 18)

 

The following quote is clearly the result of good deal of reflection and asserts almost a hierarchy of superficial to "true" Everquesters. As was a common feeling among many players, the vagrants and powergamers are somehow less legitimate parts of the fantasy realm than the role players and multiplayers, as this subject coined the groupings. Many subjects resent the way some players can turn Everquest into a power struggle at attain the most goods and attributes in the least amount of time. There is a feeling from these "traditionalists" that ultimately, Everquest should stay a game of role playing, and not become a haven for competitive aggression "like a complicated version of Quake." Here one also notices this player has his own hypotheses as to why "powergamers" and "vagrants" play as they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"There are about 3 or 4 general groups of people who play Everquest. Going from least to most popular: 1. The Powergamers - the type of player whose main goal is to beat the game and get the best toys. In complete competition with everyone else for these items and goals. This type of player tends to treat the game like a complicated version of Quake. They are always trying to prove they are better than everyone else, possibly from lack of real life successes. 2. The Multiplayer gamers - often with a background in MUDS and other role playing games. Enjoy the multi-user aspect and the teamwork required. Also enjoy the fantasy setting and exploring/role playing a little bit. Enjoy the challenge and are motivated to win but seem to enjoy getting there more than the powergamers. 3. The Roleplayers - these are the people who attempt to completely immerse themselves in their character and play in character all the time while in Everquest. These people are less motivated by advancement than any other category. They get most of their enjoyment out of the multiuser interaction. 4. The Vagrants - these are the young punks who enjoy making life miserable for others. They play for not other purpose than to cause grief." (Male, 30)

 

Other players commented that although players may find the game appealing for different reasons, its greatest power to draw gamers stems from humans' innate need to play many different roles in all aspects of life, an idea laid out by Goffman earlier. This fifteen-year-old subject thus shows wisdom beyond his years through the following statement:

"Life is roleplaying itself, only in games, it's easier." (Male)

Following,

"I believe anyone can find this game appealing, almost everyone has dreams of a world not of this one, an escape where they can be anyone they wish." (Male, 24)

 

That stated, subjects also agreed that although everyone engages in some form of role playing in real life, Everquest players are a special breed.

"Everquest requires a lot of maturity. Everquest players can examine their own feelings and reactions and notice the reactions of others around them and adjust their behaviors accordingly." (Male, 23)

 

It is obvious that the social interaction component to Everquest is also a major motivational factor in game play. Although both sexes mentioned its importance, there is evidence that for females this social aspect is an especially strong draw. As mentioned earlier, some have argued Everquest is little more than a very fancy IRC channel. As a result, one gets the feeling that some subjects, the majority of which are women, are content to log onto an Everquest server, find a shady spot underneath a tree in the south end of the world, and chat for a few hours, without ever joining a group or fighting. The following quote is reminiscent of Cheers, the famous Boston bar portrayed on television and where "everybody knows your name."

 

"Friends are always glad to see you, and you don't have to talk if you don't feel like it, sometimes you can just hang out." (Female, 27)

 

In some cases, the opportunity for virtual interaction seems to take the place of real world socializing, as this example portrays. Such a quote raises difficult questions: is the subject an introvert, as she appears to act in the physical world, or an extravert based on her behavior in the virtual world where she has "a ton" of friends. The answer is most likely a little a both, for there is likely an interactive effect at play here. Clearly some sort of anxiety or emotional complex holds her back from socializing at a competent and normal level in the real world, and this effect disappears while on-line.

 

"I don't get along will with REAL people, I'm shy…and I like time by myself. My boyfriend says that if I put all the energy I use making friends in EQ (which I have a ton there) into real life I'd have more friends there. But the funny thing is in real life…I don't want those friends, because if they can't handle the way I really am then why should I make the attempt to make them like me. I don't bend over backwards for anyone…" (Female; Yee, 2000)

 

Ideally, the above subject may be able to reach a point where she can transform her ease of interaction in Everquest into a form more applicable to the real world, as the following subject claims to have been able to master.

 

"Yeah, I act differently on-line than I am in real life. I'm the quiet and shy kind in RL (real life), the loud and talkative kind in EQ. So you can say it brings out a whole new me. EQ is also changing how I am in real life too. I'm starting to talk more, make more friends, etc." (Male, 14)

 

Most commonly, however, interaction in Everquest does not suggest any sort of pathology in the real world, but is simply used as a different avenue for healthy socializing, often leading to deep connections. Many couples, it seems, use Everquest to role play as a team, possibly strengthening their relationship.

 

"I usually play with my husband, we role play our characters as twin dark elves. I also play with other real life friends that live all around the country, and chatting in the game is a great way to stay in touch." (Female, 21; Yee, 2000)

 

This younger female subject explained which subjects she searches out first to interact with when logging on to her Everquest server. For her, chat is clearly more important than competition. Notice her in game fiancé is the second character she seeks to meet up with, behind her "lunatic wizard friend", and appears to be the least interesting of her "on-line buddies".

"I've got a BIG list of on-line buddies! I have this lunatic wizard friend, he's the first I always check for, because he always knows how to make me laugh. Then my in game fiancé. Then my level 36 Necro friend (who knows me better than I know myself), my Cleric friend (who can READ people, I SWEAR!), and then my Bard friends to check and see what else they've done in a story or song." (Female, 14; Yee, 2000)

 

 

More than any other game, Everquest seems to exploit the natural human tendency to role play in everyday situations by uprooting it from the physical world and into the virtual, allowing players to take on a persona with utmost social liberties. Some gamers believe too much time in Everquest is indicative of a pathology, while others believe it allows for self-betterment in the physical world. Still others posit there are few negative repercussions involved in trading tangible world for the virtual outright. Everquesters claim the game requires a good deal of maturity, and those whose play diverges from pure role playing are often perceived as hacks or as power-hungry. Underlying this all, however, is the notion that, at base, Everquest is a social world, and the potential for interaction is the its greatest draw. This point appears to be an especially strong force for the female Everquest players.

 

Role Play

Gender bending. A more specific issue involved in gaming motivations stems from the fact Everquest allows gamers to create their own characters of any gender. In the present study, of the 89 Everquest subjects, 23.6% (all of them male) played a character of the opposite gender. Gender-benders and non gender-benders did not differ on any of the Big Five personality dimensions, but adjective ratings revealed that non gender-bending subjects rated themselves in real life as more introspective than did gender-bending subjects. It might be the case that such significant real world introspective provides enough insight on its own that gender bending within the game is unnecessary - there would be little more to learn about the self from a gender perspective. In turn, gender-benders may use their time as the opposite gender within the game as a related form of introspection.

For the within game adjectives, gender benders rated themselves as more ambitious, guilty, and creative/imaginative than those who did not gender bend. Being more ambitious within the game may be related to the fact that Everquest is already a very complicated and time consuming game in which one usually role plays many imaginary and unfamiliar characters to begin with. Adding another gender into the mix may increase the overall role playing difficulty significantly; one willing to take on that challenge may be especially ambitious. The increased guilt may arise from the fact one is actively concealing a major physical attribute of oneself. Many on-line characters get married to other characters, and it is logical that if one of the parties is living a virtual gender-lie within that relationship, guilt might arise. Then again, most players are likely experienced enough to realize that the concept of gender in Everquest is ultimately fluid and very little can be assumed about any character's gender categorization. Finally, clearly gender-bending involves an element of creativity and also takes a good deal of imagination to play such a divergent role. The increased report of creativity/imagination is therefore not surprising.

A more accurate depiction of gender-bending demographics and experience may be provided by Yee's (2000) study of gender dynamics within Everquest, due to his larger subject population[44]. Of 349 total subjects, 53% reported actively gender-bending, that is 56.3% of the male subjects (165 of 293) and 33.9% of the female subjects (19 of 56). Consistent with predictions, gender-bending was more common for male subjects. Explanations for that finding may only be conjectured, but from a sociological standpoint, one might surmise that in real life, the feminine aspect of the masculine construct apparent in males is somehow less accessible than the masculine component embedded within the feminine construct that cloaks females. In simpler terms, it is less acceptable for a boy to act feminine, than for a girl to act masculine. As a result, the mercurial notion of gender granted by Everquest may be more alluring to those embodying a male biology than their female counterparts. Gender bending males might play out a character they truly believe they are not, while bending females may be finessing an aspect of self that is already ever so slightly exposed in their everyday experience. Accordingly, one might expect the former scenario to be the one most popularly borne out in Everquest.

Although Yee's study contained no personality data, he garnered a great deal of free responses, adding depth to the motivations behind gender-bending. On a general level, many subjects gender-bend purely for the aesthetic appeal, or at least state that as their major motivation, unwilling to analyze further, as is inferred by this female subject.

"[My] rogue is male because I think the female half-elf choices are horrible [looking]. In fact, most of the gender choices are because of the way the characters look in robes/armor or whatever. Kinda silly, perhaps, but at least there's no underlying weirdness there ;)." (Yee, 2000)

 

More players were forthright in their assertion that they gender-bend in order to experience the opposite gender, and through those experiences learn a great deal. This particular subject's response is eerily Jungian as she describes her male character taking on a life of his own, entirely independent of herself, even though it is she who is obviously controlling his actions. One is tempted to assume Wyfkin, as he is called, is a derivative of a degree of maleness inside of her psyche.

"After I started actively playing as Wyfkin, I was impressed by what seemed to be his natural personality. He sort of took on a life of his own as a kind but mischievous fellow, the type to be very courteous to the face of a lady, but coarse as a sewer rat the minute she is out of earshot. I really really enjoy role playing him." (Yee, 2000)

 

Other subjects claimed the impetus to gender-bend was grounded in a gender bias in the game, that they could receive better treatment or more respect by playing the opposite gender. Here a male gamer explains the perks of playing a female.

"Women get hooked up…everyone is much nicer to you… I got more free gear and buffs, sows etc. that any of my male characters." (Yee, 2000)

 

In contrast, male characters seem to engender more respect within the game, even though Yee discovered that Everquesters, as a group, are well aware that one's outward appearance in the game has little to do with one's actual gender. For example, this male reported that as a female in a group:

"I'm often shoved to the back and "protected." (Yee, 2000)

Also, another male commented:

"Being a female warrior, she is not always viewed as being as efficient as the males." (Yee, 2000)

Relation to Characters. Investigating more deeply the connection between Everquesters and the characters they create reveals that the relationships these characters take on in reference to the self are highly complex, and subjects freely go to great lengths to explain the intricacies. It is clear much thought goes into the creation and play of each character.

Many players use their characters as a direct extension of their self, as if they uproot their current personality into cyberspace and take on a new appearance as a fantasy being.

"Drallin is helpful and blunt, much like me. He is quick to try and help those in trouble, but he will call a person on his her stupidity harshly and rather quickly. He tends to have very little patience with rude or arrogant people. I am much like that myself." (Male, 22)

 

"They share some things, and are different in other ways. For example, my high elf mage shares my intelligence and love of learning. My dwarf warrior shares my views on problem solving. Finally, my human monk shares my sense of inner peace, as well as a willingness to help others. What mood I'm in determines which one I'll play." (Yee, 2000)

 

Other players claimed their characters are like a mystical appendage with attributes and personalities that seem to arise out of nowhere, surprising even themselves. This subject vividly describes the negative emotional impact he weathers whenever playing his character who he - apparently - cannot control.

"The rogue is constantly tricking, scamming, or demanding money for his help. I usually have major conscious attacks playing him, and find it difficult to log in as him for more than an hour at a time, due to the REAL guilt felt by taking away people's money." (Yee, 2000)

 

Possibly the most poignant examples of this paradigm are evidenced by players who describe that their characters have fallen into love relationships in Everquest with other characters, but that the players themselves shared no part in this love. This Everquester lived vicariously through the experience of her character, as if she were watching a famous cinematic love story and empathized greatly with the star.

"I've experienced the thrill of having my character fall in love with another character. No, I technically wasn't in love, it was just my character, but it didn't make the experience any less meaningful to me. I felt the butterflies, and the excitement, missed them while they were gone, got upset over fights…but I never thought I wanted to be with the real life person behind the other character." (Female, 31; Yee, 2000)

 

Again, this gamer vehemently denies feeling passionate love for another character (or player) in Everquest, yet her character's courtship was nonetheless extremely intense.

"One time I had an intense role playing romance with this 21 year old from Kentucky. He knew my real life info but chose to role play our romance instead - I was really swept away. In fact, the two consummated their relationship in a secret corner of Surefall Glade. I admit my CHARACTER was passionately in love; I enjoyed that. But no way did I fall in love in real life." (Female, 56; Yee, 2000)

 

More commonly, players state their character is both part of who they are and at the same time someone they would like to be. This player has used Everquest to move beyond fears which preclude certain behaviors in real life[45].

"I'm very social in this game, and it exposes the girlie, warmer side of my personality whereas I'm usually pretty tough with an attitude. I feel feminine and strong and in control, again contrasting how I feel in real life. I also take on more of a leadership role which I have major problems with in real life. Thus, my character is definitely a large part of who I am and who I want to be. There are characteristics in me that shine through my character that aren't apparent in real life, but that does not mean they are not a part of me. There are just certain fears and insecurities that I have that don't allow me to behave in this manner in real life." (Female, 19)

 

 

Character Selection - Quantitative Explanations

Yee's (2000) study revealed various rationales behind why players chose the specific characters they did. Major factors included appearance, the degree of fun one believes one will achieve out of the character, what kind of abilities they would like to have in the game, how other characters typically interact with other such characters, and even mood.

The present study uncovered adjective differences which might also play a role in character selection. As earlier discussed, within Everquest players must choose a race (type of creature) and a class for their race (attributes and characteristics). Although no personality differences were found between the eleven races or fourteen classes, when the classes were divided into "fighters" and "casters", the fighters rated themselves as significantly more happy within the game than did the casters. This is a difficult result to explain, but possibly the aggressiveness that is involved in Everquest is more personally involving or interesting when one's character is entangled in a physical altercation as opposed to casting a spell from afar. If one chooses to fight many battles within the game, this effect may be compounded.

When classes were further divided into "fighters", "healer-casters", and "nonhealer-casters" it was reported that nonhealer-casters rated themselves as more aggressive and bold within the game than healer-casters. As nonhealer-casters must spend all of their time fighting other characters as opposed to healing them, as is the case for healer-casters who play a more altruistic role in the game (though healer-casters have the ability to fight as well), this is a common sense finding. Additionally, nonhealer-casters rated themselves as more creative/imaginative than healer-casters within the game, possibly suggesting that since nonhealer-casters lack a skill that could endear them to other characters, they must be more creative in finding ways to make themselves attractive to other characters in hopes of joining a group.

Finally, healer-casters' self-ratings exhibited a greater degree of within game happiness than the ratings of nonhealer-casters. Judging by the important role altruism plays in Everquest, having an attribute which allows one to heal other characters may make one's own in game experience a happier one.

A looming question in relation to character/real life personality interactions relates to the question of the degree to which behavior within Everquest is associated with behavioral patterns in the real world. Subjective reports seem to suggest a great deal of variance in this regard from player to player. However, this sample revealed that almost all of the real life adjectives were significantly correlated with the within game adjectives, supporting an argument that most players act similarly within and outside of Everquest. Such was the case for the adjectives: self-controlled, distrustful, spontaneous, happy, impractical, guilty, warm, ambitious, creative/imaginative, competitive, thorough, unique/nonconforming, bold, uncooperative, introspective, and satisfied/sated.

 

Starcraft

The reasons gamers report for playing Starcraft are less varied than Everquest, though more complex than Quake. Primarily, there is a tangible pull for the feeling of within game power and control. Whoever one is, Starcraft anoints each player as akin to a Four Star General, and most players are intensely attracted to that notion. This player makes clear that such power is an attribute he lacks in real life, yet nevertheless craves with a passion. Starcraft offers an escape into just such a scenario.

"I see myself as a strategist and a person with power. In real life if I had the power (the type major governments would fear) I would use it to help people, but I don't have the power I need…so until I get that power I stick to playing Starcraft." (Male, 20)

 

Others do feel they have some degree of commanding power in their regular lives, and because of that, feel well equipped to deal with their virtual role as on-line General, such as this subject.

"I love my role in Starcraft as the leader of the army. It's my job to make sure they're fed, well defended, and can attack when necessary. I have to guide them in all their actions. I also tell them when they're advanced enough to split off into two, three, or even more sub-bases, and then give orders to form a greater army. In real life, I'm the manager of a retail store, so I'm doing similar things (instructing cashiers, supervisors, etc to the greater good of the store). (Male, 21)

 

Subjects invariably also stress that they take their in-game role very seriously, even becoming tangibly emotional regarding the safety of their subordinates, even though those troops have no real identity in the game and appear as tiny specks rushing around the Top Down board.

"It's important to me to keep as many of my men alive as possible - even though they aren't real they still have a meaningful effect on me. Losing a squad of marines because of some little mistake really gets to me even though they are cheap. Those were men out there dying because I screwed up." (Male, 15)

 

A second major explanation for the pull to play Starcraft involves its serious intellectual and analytical components. Starcraft is a game not for the physical, but mental reflexes, and players take great pride in their abilities to create and carry out successful war time strategies.

"Starcraft is a challenge to my intellectual abilities in the use of planning strategy and teamwork, although sometimes the game comes down to who has developed the fastest technique. I get great satisfaction from devising a strategy that has not ever been used or seen before." (Male, 22)

The very high level of skill required to be a successful Starcrafter is evidenced by the following two subject responses. The first claims the traditional analytical and spatial tasks offered to him in academia serve little challenge, but in the Starcraft environment, where the setting seems real, he is mentally taxed.

"Starcraft is one of the few things that actually challenges my mind at all. College level math/science/programming is all very easy for me, but not Starcraft." (Male, 20)

Additionally, this subject compares the skills used in Starcraft to those he uses in chess. Though immensely proud of his chess accomplishments, Starcraft offers a more interesting and challenging approach to his abilities.

 

"Starcraft is a lot like chess which I have played for a long time (won several tourneys and a trophy in fact) but I don't take much time making moves (in chess) and find it extremely irritating when waiting for a person for more than 1-2 minutes to make a move. Typically after the dust clears, my clock still has lots of time remaining. This is not a problem in Starcraft" (Male, 19)

 

Many other subjects noted the difficulty of doing well in Starcraft was closely linked to its strongly competitive aspects. Few players are not out to win, and most value their intellectual abilities highly. As a result, this subject suggests Starcraft can offer a great avenue of stress relief… as long as one is victorious.

"Starcraft attracts intelligent people. Most people I know can't hang with how complex the game is. It's also very competitive. If you're feeling a little steamed and hop onto a game server and give everyone a run for their money, it lets off much of that aggression." (Male, 19)

 

And indeed, few subjects did not point to the aggression inherent in the game as a natural pull for subjects.

"There is a natural desire for battle. Killing people in Starcraft is far more socially acceptable than killing real people, plus after the game you get to play again." (Male, 20)

 

"Starcraft gives us a much more refined way to fight that we've only glimpsed in the past. Being able to construct an army of my design to kill the bad guy, dead and dead again. The future is now." (Male, 29)

 

However, the minimal number of female responses that were garnered pointed to the chat option as being one of the most important aspects of the game. This finding is unexpected as game play is so frenetic and short-lived, not unlike Quake, that substantive discussion would seem impossible. Yet for this female subject, who admittedly seems less competitively driven by the game than others, chat is a key Starcraft component.

"I play Starcraft for the people I meet and chat with. I love chatting with people, and especially within the games! Sometimes I lose because of this <grin> but it's worth it." (Female, 14)

 

This male felt similarly, though was frustrated by the lack of uniformly high quality discussion.

"Sometimes the discussion can be almost as interesting as the game, but frequently conversation degrades quickly to vulgar and childish humor." (Male, 22)

 

Though Starcraft allows one to commandeer the virtual equivalent of a real life military for a small country in what could only be considered "role-playing" in the broadest sense of the term, players remarkably still commented that the game allowed for aspects of their personality to shine through.

"I myself am thoughtful and meticulous, and very nerd-like and non-competitive. However, I see a lot of people in Starcraft who are more cut-throat and tough about the game. I think my personality style fits well. I'll try for grossly impractical but incredibly entertaining moves, like a Firebat only offense. I also value precision tactics and surgical strikes. I like seeing that I killed 275 units with 120 of my own." (Male, 16)

 

Accordingly, other subjects described how the game allowed them to go beyond shades of their real life personality and become someone they are not.

"In life I don't lead as much as I follow. Online I [get to be] quite charismatic and leaderly." (Male, 19)

 

"I tend to be much more cautious and nervous while playing Starcraft, contrary to my more than outgoing personality." (Male, 17)

 

"I'm not confident at all in real life, but I think I can do anything in Starcraft J." (Male, 15)

Here, giving players immediate power and control they may lack in the real world, Starcraft becomes a fertile ground for competitive and aggressive expression. Players take their responsibility as a commander of troops seriously, and their success or failure as a leader seems to reflect on the player's own analytical skill level. The opportunity for chat appears to be a superficial motivation for gaming, though some subjects place a good deal of importance on the potential for social interaction.

 

A Theoretical Recounting

The assertion which began the discussion -- that the primary finding of this study indicates that current theories underlying the psychological mechanisms of cyberspace, as promulgated by Turkle, Talbott, and here encapsulated by the new concept of non repressive sublimation, are marked by a reductionist simplicity needing explication -- should now have gained clarity. That is, cyberspace, as an area of psychological inquiry, is staggeringly complex. Its breadth alone makes attempting to concoct a concise definition of the term an almost impossible endeavor. And as seen here, the psychological components involved in the human/cyberspace interaction require an in-depth exposition of both the context of the latter and the personality of the former.

Turkle uses Multi User Domains as a contextual springboard, Talbott is less specific but bases his points on the context of email and web surfing, and this study used video games to operationalize cyberspace. Moreover, only this work chose to highlight the systematic[46] role of personality, as defined by five basic dimensions, as it affects the psychological processes involved in human relations with cyberspace. However, the flippancy inherent in that definition became quickly apparent. In addition, an error was made in the assumption that all of cyberspace, so long as it was marked by anonymity and ultimate freedom of action, affected each user in a uniform manner. As an unfortunate result, the predictions that were asserted with regard to the consequences of interaction between the game and the subject were quite thin, as is similarly evidenced in the work of both Turkle and Talbott.

To state the general problem in blunt terms: cyberspace is a beast. In fact, it is an incomparable beast from which little psychological knowledge will be gleamed unless several full scale investigations -- taking account both the enormous diversity of context within cyberspace as well as the role personality plays in one's interaction with it - are performed to set the foundation for what is likely to become an entirely new branch of psychology, akin to the cognitive revolution of 1970s. Turkle's work, Talbott's assertions, and the theory of non repressive sublimation are provocative gateways into this field, but alone are pathetically inadequate attempts to serve as general psychological theories of behavior in cyberspace. The diversities of motivations, experiences, and settings within and around cyberspace are too great.

 

Turkle

Nonetheless, each theory seems to contain a degree of truth and can be applied to unpack the results of the current work. Turkle's thesis, for instance, that behavior in cyberspace is underscored by the vast opportunity for one to switch roles in emotionally meaningful ways was supported time and time again, and is likely the most powerful tool for future research. Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft gamers, if not directly asserting that a primary motivation for entering cyberspace and for selecting their game of choice was to take on an alternate role or play out an extension of self, made that point clear through their subjective responses. Striking examples from Everquest include players whose characters reportedly took on unexpected personality characteristics, seemingly exhibiting personas which were entirely independent from their "creators". Others followed their creations through passionate love affairs with other characters, making a clear point that they, themselves, were certainly not in love, just their alternative selves. Players claimed they gained confidence in the physical world through their character's actions in the virtual setting, they were social when normally not, evil when normally kind, and kind when usually evil. They empathized with their repulsive troll, raised the dead with their Necromancer, and made love through their Half Elf. They acted more thorough than in real life, less nervous than their parents had ever seen them behave, and gave more warmth to others through their virtual creations than their physical significant others would care to imagine. In Starcraft, players transformed from the geeky wallflower at Friday night's junior high dance to the cockiest of leaders. They impressed, not frightened their crush with their love of math and skill for spatial strategies. They used whatever small leadership role was given to them at work and transformed it into a full-scale position of power. They fed three hundred men, instead of their gerbil. The role playing aspects of Quake were not as lucid but involved the chance to assert dominance by wielding an assault rifle instead of a pencil, to kill one's enemy instead of cursing her, and to measure one's worth through blood rather than academic or employment achievement.

It seems one cannot legitimately argue that the needs being fulfilled through these three games are simply that of leisure -- it is unlikely the average human needs fifteen to thirty hours of a solitary leisure activity each week, thus other needs must be present, as Turkle would contend. But as Turkle does not specify what those needs are, the theory of non repressive sublimation here attempted to fill that void. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support the fact that across all subjects, primary needs involve the realistic fulfillment of sexual and aggressive drives - the situation is much more complex. Or is it?

 

 

 

Non Repressive Sublimation Examined

This research has been built on the theme that only deeply entrenched, unconscious, and esoteric needs are of import. Yet clearly, players are fulfilled in much simpler manners. As before, some gain confidence, some gain friendships, some gain insight into the opposite sex, some fall in love with computer graphics and some… simply have fun. And when one considers that the ages of the subjects on average hover between eighteen and twenty-five, one might summarize that all of these needs may be encompassed by one concept, identity. Indeed, one must return to the words of Erik Erikson who noted that "man is a creature who desires to readjust himself and his environments according to his own inventions." (1968, p.233) Here, the "environment" is cyberspace, and "readjusting" may mean switching games. The "inventions" of these subjects, of course, correspond to the roles taken on in cyberspace, just as Turkle asserts. And of course the ultimate aim of such role contortions and mercurial readjustments of environment should not be lost - ultimately, an "I" of which one can feel proud.

Accordingly, this study seems to have identified subjects at different stages of their identity crises. Some have the need to be powerful, some need to be in command, some need to try out a different gender or sexuality, some need to know what it feels like to dominate and even kill, some need be shy, some need to be self-controlled, others spontaneous, but all - integrated. Is it surprising that those Everquest subjects playing over thirty hours a week are more neurotic than their less intense counterparts? Not if one assumes such subjects are in a desperate scramble to uncover simply what it means to say "me". Does the permanently disabled war veteran, quoted above, role play a bard on Everquest because he has always wanted to sing, or because a war has left his self-image shattered and Everquest gives him an outlet to feel whole again? Do the female Starcraft subjects place more emphasis on the chat room than their win total because someone else is using the only phone in the house, or because adolescent friendships can be self-affirming? These are just a few of an infinite supply of questions with no easy answers. But if one is to grant that video games are anything more than a way to feel relaxed or a way to waste time before dinner, one must look to the self for answers, and indeed, to identity.

Those points, however, do not imply Turkle's assumptions are correct. Identity, as conceived by Erikson, is ideally an integrated whole with a diversity of voices which speak through many different roles. The post-modern self is a different entity completely, and it is patently unclear how identity is reconciled with the self Turkle describes. Such is the topic for another discussion. At the same, the notion that non repressive sublimation, or just plain sublimation plays an enormous role in the psychological mechanisms of cyberspace is not left for dead. Far from it.

There is no more than miniscule evidence to suggest non repressive sublimation, of the type originally described by Herbert Marcuse, that of an instinct not deflected from its aim but "gratified in activities and relations that are not sexual or aggressive in the sense of organized genital sexuality and yet are libidinal and erotic" is present in the game playing population (1966, p.208). There is also little evidence that the modern day computer is imbued with such psychological salience that it may serve as the level of technology alluded to by Brown, that is, endowed with the power to catalyze a full scale "return of the repressed" (1959).

Quantitative evidence for the demise of the concept of non repressive sublimation is apparent with the awareness that the real life adjectives of satisfied/sated, complete/whole, happy, unique/nonconforming did not correlate with within game adjectives which would be indicative of an enormous release of aggression and sexual urges. Incidence of non repressive sublimation would require a very strong association between the above adjectives and the within game adjectives of aggressive, bold, aroused, competitive, uncooperative, and not self-controlled. Such associations would also be expected to be even greater for the extreme gamers (those who play for over thirty hours a week), a result which was not present in any regard. More damningly, however, were subjective reports which did not suggest that the effects of the gaming experience involved a feeling of utter completeness, a general warmth of affect, and a notion of great self-understanding and utter joy.

Possible reasons for the lack of effect are numerous. The greatest problem no doubt dealt with the fact that instinctual demands could not be satisfied as specifically as would be required by a mechanism of non repressive sublimation. Although one may aggress to a great extent in Quake, one does not really have the opportunity to, in Freud's words, "exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, [and] to torture him." (1990, p.302) Thus, although one can easily cause virtual bloodshed in Quake, Freud suggests the satiation of an instinctual force is not so simple. In addition, it is reasonable to assume primal urges contain a specific aim (Freud suggests one's neighbor), but the extent to which one may experience transference onto a Quake character is questionable. Also, although modern day games like Quake have advanced to an unbelievable degree in terms of reality in comparison to the games of just a few years ago, the graphics are still very cartoon-like, and gore is still restricted by standards of decency. And of course, Everquest and Starcraft provide an even weaker outlet for aggression generally. Simply put, true non repressive sublimation would seem to require more realism than is available in video games today. What the future will hold in this regard is largely unclear, though the possibility for a true feeling of "realness" is probably not far off. The virtual reality paradigm may be one potential available avenue worthy of future investigation.

That stated, it would be myopic to assert that sublimation in its more common form is not closely involved with the psychic components of gaming, side by side with role play. Complete knowledge of identity is achieved only through a full understanding of both obvious and less than apparent behavioral motivations, and it is at this latter level where the games achieve a certain unity. When all three games are compared as a triad, and their collective experiences are viewed in terms of the earlier analogy, that of allowing one to be part of the infantry, a diplomat, or a General, the common aggressive (and in some cases sexual) nature of each game is borne out. The programming code for each game is akin to the instincts of Freudiana - sooner or later, one is forced to act in an aggressive manner or the game cannot be played normally (or the life lived, to continue the analogy). Even Everquest is impossible to navigate unless the gamer attempts to gain at least some degree of materials and experience through fighting. Thus, when ultimately distilled, each game serves a dual purpose: at once a highly sophisticated militaristic role playing adventure, and a deeper level of lower awareness, a full scale defense of the ego through sublimation.

The unconscious role of the latter function is revealed through many players' subjective reports. This twenty-six year old Everquest male, for instance, implies he cannot help but be somehow titillated by many of the female characters in the game.

"I can't complain when I see a half naked wood elf run across my screen…even when a female character is wearing armor, they still generally appear unclothed. I know this pisses my wife off."

Other players were less forthright in describing various sublimations, a model most commonly observed when gamers claimed their characters took on a personality independent of their own. Indeed, what could possibly serve as a more efficient avenue for sublimation than one which allows a gamer to reap the benefits of a deflected urge without owning the behavior? This Everquester, quoted earlier, claims to be appalled by his character's thieving behavior, but one must question the authenticity of his guilt.

"The rogue is constantly tricking, scamming, or demanding money for his help. I usually have major conscious attacks playing him, and find it difficult to log in as him for more than an hour at a time, due to the REAL guilt felt by taking away people's money." (Yee, 2000)

 

Additionally, on-line character marriage, sexually charged chat, gender bending, even choosing to be a warrior of maximum strength all suggest that the possibility for sublimation adds a great appeal to the game. Examples from Quake and Starcraft in this regard seem too numerous to be categorized.

Examining how video games are perceived in their social context reveals further evidence for the sublimated aspects of each game. In general, high-end gamers are criticized by those outside the gaming world, perceived as obsessive, somehow embodying a grave emotional illness forcing them into the world of the virtual. Even low-end players themselves exhibit a bitterness of sorts by making derogatory claims regarding extremely intense players. One might assume an aspect of jealously plays a part in both scenarios. The strength of this negative societal impact is acutely observed when gamers themselves deny sublimation plays any role in their gaming propensities. In turn, it is difficult to seriously entertain arguments from Quake gamers who assert the game's violence is not a major draw, or use disclaimers to make clear that even though they receive an odd feeling of satisfaction from the total domination of another, this is a "sick", unnatural feeling. Such social malevolence leveled against games is of a type predicted by Freud in Civilization and its Discontents. Society would indeed not be predicted to look kindly upon a technological device with the potential to undermine its deeply embedded behavioral restrictions. For instance, this subject describes the color of the contentment he feels through playing a greatly violent first person action game.

"The game becomes a part of your life after a while,. With a game, you are forced out of the imaginary world and back into the real, severed from the relationships end events which make up the imaginary world. There is a tangible sense of loss. For after each playing session along the way, I feel rather drained, but oddly stimulated too. I hadn't thought about this before, but I often like to write in journal afterwards. I don't think it is possible to attain the level of satisfaction that video games produce in any other fashion."

 

Talbott

Finally, Talbott's theories of cyberspace warrant little discussion, though he does well to point out that much of cyberspace behavior is automated, for all players reported a marked decrease in introspection while engaged in their game of choice. Unfortunately, however, by not linking that idea to unconscious mechanisms or psychodynamics in general, his ideas fall flat in relation the colorful and detailed descriptions of player gaming experiences and motivations. Clearly, much of their behavior is not so automatic. Talbott's work best serves as a bridge from Turkle's assumptions of gaming components to the other more subtle factors involved, such as sublimation.

 

Aggression

A direct corollary to the insignificant findings for non repressive sublimation -- which implies a release of aggressive psychic energy -- was the fact that hypotheses relating to the cathartic effect of video games were not supported. As explained above, both social factors and constraints inherent in the games, making them less violently real than they could be, make for a poor space of instinctual "draining off" as hypothesized by Huesmann (1982) and Bettleheim. In fact, the opposite effect was found as self-rated aggression, boldness, and arousal while playing was significantly and positively correlated with both aggression and competitiveness in real life. This finding bolsters early work by Bandura (1961) in his famous Bobo aggression modeling study, as well as numerous other reports which suggest in game aggression is associated with out of game violence such as those by Silvern and Williamson (1987), Shutte et al. (1988), and Provenso (1991).

The current finding is especially salient as this is the first study to ever consider the effect of violence within the milieu of modern day computer games and their greatly increased aggressive content with often realistic gore. The fact that out of game aggression associations increased as playing time also increased does not bode well for catharsis hypotheses, as it would appear that greater gaming involvement implies greater aggression.

The fact that that between each game, only Everquest gamers exhibited significant correlations for aggression related adjectives implies that the minimal aggression (in relative terms) that is involved in Everquest is experienced as the most realistic for the user. Quake and Starcraft, in comparison, may feel more cartoon-like and thus less self involved, meaning the possibility of the experience spilling over into real life is less likely.

However, it is necessary to mention that the methods employed here to uncover this effect are far from exact. For, conclusions resting on both correlational and self-report data is suspect in many regards, thus more serious and methodologically sound investigations into this issue are required, especially as games quickly become more violent and patently realistic. As a result, the work of researchers such as Cooper and Mackie (1986), Graybill (1985, 1987), and Kestenbaum and Weinstein (1985) showing no link between video games and real life aggression should not be dismissed, but researched further, ideally in studies attempting to uncover the nature of this link independent of other factors, which was not the case in this study.

 

Female Gamers

The paucity of female gamers in the study was not unexpected, especially in light of the recently commissioned and previously described AAUS report. Although various other explanations in the literature for this gender disparity have been discussed, the wide range of motivations for gaming and the diverse experiences offered by each game, as reported here, allow question relating to why females have largely been left out of this psychic revolution to persist.

One method of investigating this issue is to explore how the women who do play are different from the men who game. Across all games and also for a within Quake analysis, it was revealed that the female gamers were more agreeable and extraverted. The extraversion finding is clear. As games have traditionally not been a female domain, it is intuitive that those who do play would rate themselves as greatly extraverted, needing to overcome the social pressures which repel their other, less extraverted, female counterparts from playing. The fact that females rated themselves as more agreeable is difficult to comprehend. In terms of social roles, the female gamers are clearly not agreeable, they are in fact, rebellious. They are agreeable, however, in terms of their willingness to satisfy their inner needs through gaming. This research has discovered numerous instances where habits of play are linked to an urge to be dominant, a desire to be someone else or to act in a way that is not possible in real life. Both sexes surely share these needs, but only especially agreeable females, heed the calls of such needs through the use of virtual environments. In support of this idea, females rated also themselves as more ambitious than did males in real life.

Not surprisingly, females reported experiencing similar behavior and affective changes in comparison to males from real life to within the game, claiming to be less introspective and self-controlled within Quake, and more aggressive, less creative/imaginative, and less introspective while playing Everquest. Thus, among this small range of adjectives, it appears each game environment did not differently affect both sexes.

This is not to say, however, that females and males behaved identically within each game. For Quake, males rated themselves as more aggressive, competitive, and distrustful than did females. Each of those adjectives are attributes which would seemingly increase proficiency, supporting a notion suggested by Brown et al., 1997) that women may play games less because they are not as skilled as males, or in this case do not play the games in ways which are likely to lead to victory. For Everquest, females rated themselves as more warm and introspective within the game, providing the first of many following pieces of evidence showing that females are more interested in the interactive capabilities of each game.

For the real life adjectives, Quake females were rated as more happy and trusting, while no differences were found for the Everquest gamers. Again, bringing qualities like increased happiness and a trusting attitude to a game like Quake is not likely to increase one's kill count significantly, possibly suggesting that females who play Quake do so for reasons other than their ability to slaughter the most opponents in the least amount of time.

It is highly unfortunate this study provided no means of comparing female gamers to females in general, thus it is difficult to propose exactly how Quake, Everquest, and Starcraft females are especially unique for their gender, except to suggest they are possibly more amenable to their psychic needs, based on the fact they use cyberspace as a method of satisfaction.

 

 

 

Quake

One learns a great deal more about female gamers, however, through their subjective reports. The few females who were included in the study were open to discussing the issue of why so few females play Quake. This subject encapsulated much of what was on the minds of many of the female respondents - women are not made to feel comfortable within the game because the range of female characters is overwhelmingly slanted to cater towards male sexual desires. Clearly, nothing has changed since 1991 when Provenzo categorized the sexist themes on the boxes of forty-five Nintendo games.

 

"I hate the fact the female models in Quake 3 have huge breasts and skimpy clothing." (Female, 23)

 

Even worse, females who do play are not given the respect of their male counterparts. As a result, this female will only play male characters.

"It's much harder for women to feel accepted during games, it has been less bothersome to be gender-neutral so the youngins don't get too excited over a female walking around." (Female, 37)

 

Only one male subject noted these two factors in attempting to explain the low degree of female participation in Quake. He was also the only subject to place himself in the position of the opposite sex.

"They don't play because of the rude people who play the game, I think that it would take a girl who was either better at the game, or more hardened to the trash talk to become really interested. Another thing is the lack of options that women have in the game to be accurately represented. The models of Quake 3 are more like locker room pinups than actual soldiers. I know I wouldn't really want to play with a model as sexually charactatured as they are." (Male, 19)

 

According to almost all female subjects, the single greatest impediment to an increase in female Quake players involved the lack of opportunities for computer socialization at a young age. Subjects also complained they were discouraged from such activity early on. Such explanations mirror the reasons given in the literature for the video gaming gender gap, highlighted by Funk and Buchman (1986) who claimed that children evaluate the acceptability of game playing in congruence with common gender stereotypes, that is, boys, not girls, play video games. The situation is exemplified by this female Quake player who believes males themselves offer the only gateway into the gaming world.

"It partially has to do with the fact that females are raised to believe that enjoying computers is nerdy and not feminine. Almost all the females I know who are playing Quake 3 were introduced to computer gaming through a male - whether it be a brother, roommate or boyfriend. If they don't have that male influence, they won't get into gaming. It's hard to pick up a game when no one tells you where to get it, how to install it, how to players to play with, etc." (Female, 30)

 

And in the tradition of the GameGirlz, located at gamegirlz.com, females who do play Quake are proud of their minority status and take the game very seriously.

"I like beating up on people that suck. At the higher levels of play I really like now, it's all about mental game." (Female, 25)

 

And in fact, male subjects admitted that female Quakers were often as skilled as the men.

"I'm glad to see women when I do - some of them are damned good!!!!" (Male, 49)

 

Most interestingly, only male subjects stressed that females carried an innate distaste for violence or lacked the necessary components to be aggressive at will. Female subjects did not refer to such deterministic factors.

"Women don't have such primal urges to kill things." (Male, 16)

"One word: testosterone." (Male, 16)

"Women concern themselves with fundamentally different motives, desires etc. than men. For instance, competition is generally a higher priority among men." (Male, 28)

 

Other males reported that they thought that for some reason, women were simply bored with all video games. A deeper analysis of such statements necessarily returns to the differing degrees of computer socialization between men and women; men may be taught that video games are not boring, while women are told they could not enjoy such a "technological" activity.

"I don't know, Quake just seems to really bore most women I've talked to about it. The violence doesn't turn them off, they just seem to get bored." (Male, 30)

 

"Girls look at games like cats look at tv. It's just moving, bright colors and pictures…then they get bored and leave the room." (Male, 24)

 

A few males made reference to the fact that women were less skilled than men and thus had no reason to play, while other subjects seemed to invent creative, yet wholly sexist explanations for the lack of participation.

"Women aren't as efficient working in a three dimensional space like men, they prefer strategy games." (Male, 14)

 

"Women in general don't sit in front of computers like their male counterparts, too busy grooming themselves or something ??!?! Women just have less hobbies than men. Maybe it's due to hormones or something." (Male, 20)

 

"Women have always been discouraged from playing video games. Most girls disclude Quake 3 from social life because they think social status is very important." (Male, 15)

 

Finally, one subject responded that females embodied a trait which males seemed to lack, which in turn explained the gender gap.

"Women don't play because they have a character trait called maturity." (Male, 14)

In all, it appears Quake remains a stereotypically male domain of which females lack the support required to initiate them into the game. It is unclear whether the content of the game per se plays a role in turning away potential female player, though women who do play did not suggest the aggressive setting turned other female subjects away. Men were more pointed in this notion. The sexist portrayals of women, however, do make the game less appealing for many female players. Female Quakers seem to enjoy the interactive capabilities of the game in terms of building a holistic community of both men and women, though the tightest bonds seem to exist at the level of the females-only clan. It is abundantly apparent that few males have a solid grasp of why the opposite sex is not interested in their game of choice, yet they freely promulgate imaginative, if not bigoted viewpoints. A more accurate investigation of this issue would require questioning the female population at large as to why games like Quake are not appealing.

Everquest

There was a sense with Everquest subjects, as was borne out by this study, that more females play Everquest than other types of games. Interestingly, ratios given tended to be unrealistically high, as least as is suggested by current research and Yee (2000). The explanation for the over-shoot may have to do with the gender anonymous quality of Everquest, for as was discovered, gender bending is common practice for many males and females, thus an accurate gender ratio through game play is almost impossible to verify.

"Actually, I think an equal amount of men and women play Everquest. This game applies to anyone who has motorskills." (Male, 14)

 

"If there are fewer females, the ratio of male:female players is very close. I would guess something on the order of 9:8 or 9:7 male to female." (Male, 25)

 

"In the game it is hard to tell the ratio of male to female players because people don't' stick to their own sex necessarily, however I would say that it is 60% male 40% female." (Male, 24)

 

In stark opposition to Quake, almost all subjects suggested that gender disparity that did exist had nothing to do with any innately female attribute, but existed because women were simply not exposed to the game as frequently as male players. This subject believes that men were originally drawn into the world of fantasy because of its technologically based nature, a subject women were taught to avoid. When "real" fantasy developed as a genre, women were already an important step behind. Like many subjects, this respondent reported that role playing is an activity which can and should be enjoyed by both sexes.

"Women have never been as interested in role playing games as men. It's got an ancient causation - way back when the only fantasy writing around was science fiction, it attracted men because of its technical element. Women were expected to avoid that sort of thing in those days. Thus, when real fantasy started to be published in the old established science fiction magazines, men were poised and ready for it while women were out in the cold. After that, the split remained mostly because boys play with boys and girls play with girls. For the record, I try to teach as many women as I can how to roleplay. It's good for everyone." (Male, 20)

 

This female Everquestrer echoes the above subject in a general sense, but then goes on to stress that many women do not become involved in Everquest because it is associated with a world of combat and violence, which, she stresses, is entirely false. Like many females quoted above, this subject is attracted to Everquest for its great capacity for interaction, and because of it, the game appears to have become a way of life. One senses frustration in her words as she laments that many females are unable to break through the stereotypes associated with video gaming, never having a chance to understand the special qualities of Everquest.

"Games/technology/computers is typically (or stereotypically) a man's world. I think a lot of females are turned off because of this factor. Children are raised to play with certain toys and games according to gender and culture; therefore, I believe that women have not really been allowed to explore this side of their interests. Also, another common misconception about games of this genre is that they are violent or gory or fighting dominant, but this is DEFINITELY a major misconception about Everquest. Many will never know that Everquest is a game of life…of much more." (Female, 19)

 

 

Beyond issues of socialization, however, some aspects of the game were noted which might contribute to many females shying away from the environment. This female gamer recounts the behavior of many men in Everquest who play female characters, and later suggests they tarnish her experience.

" Tell tale signs of a real life male playing a female character are: over-flirtatiousness, a REALLY foul mouth, extreme competitiveness, frequent dueling, etc." (Female; Yee, 2000)

 

 

In addition, Everquest seems to embody the medieval values of chivalry, possibly related to its fantasy setting, and many women and men commented that this aspect of the world lead to a sexist and biased value system maintained by many men on the server.

 

"I think that Everquest allows for the age-old protective instinct of men to be exemplified. Even my little female warrior is "watched over" more than she needs to be. The treatment is very condescending." (Female; Yee, 2000)

 

"With the possibility of marriage in Everquest, I've witnessed some pretty old fashioned values shining through. It almost sickens me but I've seen players acting as hunters for their virtual wives, camping hours and hours for items just to impress them." (Male, 26)

 

 

A variety of subjects also made the point that women seem to view the computer as more of a functional entity, and less of a tool for enjoyment or self-betterment. The second quote infers that as a result, women are not motivated to set aside the time needed to make Everquest a world of their own, something males have an easier time doing.

 

"The reason is that women mostly view sitting at a computer as a waste of time." (Male, 25)

 

"I believe most women simply do not have the time to play these games if they are married and children and hold a job. For example, a simple task of washing dishes means one thing to a male and another to a female. To the male to wash the dishes means just that, wash dishes to a female it means wash the dishes, wipe off the counter, wipe down the stove, sweep the floor, put everything in its place." (Female, 51)

 

 

In total, like Quake, Everquest remains a male domain, yet the number of female gamers, and the potential for larger numbers, is much greater. Both sexes were emphatic in their beliefs that the game is truly for everyone, having the potential to transform into a space of life. Unfortunately, not unlike Quake, female subject recruitment is hindered by girls socialized to believe that only males role play or that video games are an inherently masculine domain. In addition, the behavior of many characters in Everquest is sexist, and the game is not exonerated from the charge that many of the existing female characters are unrepresentative of the average female body.

Starcraft

As the Starcraft grouping yielded only three female respondents, questions relating to gender for this game are of a distinctly male perspective. And from that viewpoint, two fundamental points arose as to the gender gap in Starcraft. For one, subjects believed females are inherently less competitive, making them poor candidates for both enjoyment and success within Starcraft.

"The answer is simple: Males are more competitive." (Male, 14)

 

"It is clearly male dominated but that is perfectly natural. Most females aren't into conflict." (Male, 20)

 

Secondly, players suggested that females are, in general, bored by computer games due to their inability to understand the use of a computer beyond a purely functional level

"Most females have two distinct points of view on Starcraft: 1) It's a computer game, therefore it sucks. 2) What's the point? They don't tend to be as competitive at a game as males would. Guys on the other hand, see it as an opportunity to display their skill at something, and, in the process, establish themselves as the dominant male." (Male, 21)

 

 

Additionally, many subjects believed that females were more interested in social interaction than video games, and as this gamer asserts, apparently the Starcraft chat window is not satisfying.

 

"Too many females think that its just a waste of time, and instead think that it is more practical to go and chit-chat for hours for no apparent reason. They practically need a social life to live. I guess online Starcraft just isn't social enough for them." (Male, 17)

 

 

 

"Yeah, females don't like games, let alone games like Starcraft. Personally, I would like to see more females playing Starcraft, then I would play Starcraft more often because from what I have seen, they don't care about winning or losing, they just want to enjoy themselves." (Male, 20)

 

Others were more sexist in their explanations, either positing women lack the intellectual capacity to play Starcraft well, or that females should not be playing video games at all.

"When females watch guys play games, they don't see how complex the game is, so it's boring." (Male, 19)

 

"Yeah…because a woman's job is to cook and have my baby…YEAH!!!!!" (Male, 19)

 

 

In contrast, a few respondents noted that the few females who do play, are quite skilled.

 

"The few females I have met online (and who knows if they really are) are very good at the game. the seem to be more competitive than the guys and very proud that they are female and good." (Male, 22)

 

 

Finally this Starcrafter likely summed up the sentiments of many female virtual Generals - few girls play, and this may be linked to the game's competitive nature and the overly masculine tenor of interaction on each server. This subject, apparently does not mind either aspect.

 

"*sigh*, it is so true girls don't play Starcraft, and when they find out you're female they get all goo-goo over you and it sooooo sickening! That could put off quite a few…also many of my friends just don't like games where you gotta kill things and be all violent and aggressive…he he… poor them!!!" (Female, 14)

 

 

Starcraft subjects assessed the lack of female involvement in the game as a product of the game's competitiveness. All but one of the responses, however, were elicited from male players, thus it is difficult to judge the accuracy of this hypothesis. The females who do play are consistently rated by their opponents as highly skilled, but again, one's gender in Starcraft is based on one's handle, a rather flimsy template.

As was the case in discussing this issue for all games, it is difficult to entertain hypotheses regarding the causal components of a gender gap unless the underrepresented group is queried themselves. What appears lucid, however, is that those women who play Quake and Starcraft form quite a distinct subset among others of their gender, largely linked to personality dimensions such as agreeableness and extraversion. The key components in their willingness to enter such a male dominated (some might suggest oppressive) arena appear to be either a mixture of a desire for aggressive competition combined with furious social interaction (or additionally with Quake, a females only on-line community) or the existence of a respected gaming mentor (most likely male) to teach the intricacies of each game. That said, it is difficult to deny that at some level there is also some amorphous force that for whatever reason, causes women to generally not enjoy computer games. Whether that is rooted in a fear of technology, a pure lack of interest, or the fact that most females are engaging in other activities while males game is unclear, and the subject for another project.

Until then, it is unlikely games will cease to exist as a stereotypical male domain, meaning Horner's (1979) notion of a "motive to avoid success" for commonly male areas will continue to serve as a possible explanation for the gender gap. As a result, the vicious cycle continues as game marketers have little impetus to alter inherently sexist themes in games if females show no interest in giving capitol to exist in virtual worlds where violence is normative and relationships are secondary - constituting a space which is suggested by Gilligan (1982) as antithetical to females' desired experience. Only Everquest eclipses the narrowly defined programming codes, allowing for an experience built on relationships and complex issues of right and wrong. And yet, the disparity still persists.

 

 

Age Effects

Contrary to the hypothesis that all groups of gamers would be similar in age, Quake and Everquest gamers were significantly older than Starcraft subjects. More surprising, perhaps, was the fact that the average age of Quake and Everquest subjects lay at the margins of Erikson's boundary for the stage of Identity versus Role Confusion (around age 23 for Quake and age 26 for Everquest) as it was assumed a major function for all games involved the fleshing out of identity. However, one must also consider that the standard deviation for each mean age hovered around 8.5, suggesting great variance in the sample. Indeed, a case by case analysis revealed a number of subjects in their forties and fifties. Starcraft may have appealed to a slightly younger age grouping because its experience is in many ways the most balanced, creating an highly competitive, aggressive, analytical, and frenetic atmosphere combined with a degree of interactive capabilities. Older subjects may have either tried more games or be more focused with regard to the needs they desire, thus playing whichever of the two remaining games is most comfortable to them: a space of cooperation, freedom, interaction, and minimal aggression like Everquest, or a game like Quake providing an aggressive, bold, and graphic experience with minimal interaction.

The hypothesis that personality characteristics would not vary between subjects of differing ages was not supported. Overall, increased age was associated with greater agreeableness and extraversion. The latter result may be linked to the fact that social values suggest that video gaming is akin to "child's play" and not suitable for older adults. Thus, those who do play might be willing to forgo these social constraints in the interest of fulfilling a great need for external arousal - as is thought to be a need for extraverts. Perhaps not surprising then, is the finding that for all subjects, age was negatively correlated with real life introspection, an adjective not generally linked with extraversion. Moreover, within the games, age correlated with competitiveness, an adjective marking great extraversion.

As a result, the older players may be more sensitive to their inner needs, that is, they show great agreeableness in regards to fulfilling their psychic desires, even if the needs require behaving in ways which run contrary to age expectancies. And in fact, age was negatively correlated with warmth in real life, suggesting the eldest subjects were the least amenable to the demands of society. Following, within the game, age was significantly linked with satisfaction, attesting to the sense that older subjects are more likely to use the games to honor their desires. The positive age and agreeableness association was also borne out within Everquest and Starcraft alone, for likely the same reasons.

The fact that age correlated with emotional stability for Everquest suggests that for the younger subjects, the Everquest experience is directly linked to the struggle to establish an identity. Thus, they are emotionally unstable without a clear sense of self, that is, neurotic, and play Everquest because of it. Older subjects may have established a more solid sense of identity, explaining the greater stability ratings. Moreover, within Everquest, age was positively associated with happiness, a feeling of completeness/wholeness, and satisfaction, all adjectives suggesting great stability.

In Starcraft, age may be positively correlated with conscientiousness because older players are attracted to the game for the rewards conferred upon players who exhibit great attention to detail. Younger players, in contrast, may focus less on the opportunity for meticulous strategies, being more interested in social, competitive, violent, and high paced aspects of the game. The older, more conscientious subjects may view Starcraft as more cerebral experience overall. And indeed, age in Starcraft was positively correlated with creativity, supporting Starcraft as a more intellectual experience for the older players.

Analysis also revealed that age did not correlate with time played per week, a finding that suggested age did not restrict one's freedom to play a certain number of hours per week to a great extent. For instance, it was not the case that middle school age subjects played for a lesser number of hours per week due the constraints of a daily school schedule, in comparison to a college student who played for more hours simply because she had more freedom to do so.

The hypothesis that older subjects would exhibit an ability to more facilely explain their motivations for gaming, based on a more thorough and urgent need to understand the self, was not supported. Based on subjective reports, old and young subjects appeared equally articulate in terms of their ability to comprehend to and verbalize how entrance into a virtual world affects identity. In truth, few subjects addressed this issue directly, but those who did appeared to be equally distributed between the age groups. The result suggests that clarity of thinking on issues such as identity is less tied to age than to maturity, which is highly susceptible to individual difference.

Addiction

The hypothesized link between video game playing and gambling or other addictive activities was wholly unsupported. Only 7.9% of the sample stated their leisure activities included drinking/drugs or gambling. Instead, Quake and Starcraft subjects both listed sports most frequently as a primary leisure activity, while the greatest amount of Everquest subjects indicated that reading was their free time activity of choice.

The fact that Quake and Starcraft subjects choose to spend their time engaging in aggressive and physical activities is not surprising, as the video games they play mirror those attributes. It is also logical that Everquest subjects most often listed reading as a leisure activity. In fact, Everquesters often compared their gaming experience to the feeling of intense emotional involvement while reading a book. In both cases, one is psychically transported to another virtual world. In one instance, the agent crawls inside jumbled lines of nonsense which spring to life on the screen and to which the gamer has the power to mold a unique adventure. In the other, written descriptions envelop the mind and take one on an adventure of reactivity, granting the power not of adventure creation, but to evolve written descriptions into one's own visual images. In the former, the setting is provided while the story is one's own to unfold, while in the latter, the tale is set but the context is self-created. Such a connection is likely not lost on the inhabitants of Everquest as 27.5% indicated they frequented games of real life table top fantasy role playing, in comparison to 4.8% of Starcraft subjects and none of the Quake respondents. Real life fantasy role playing was borne out of fantasy novels and serves as an intermediary between fantasy books and Everquest. The three form a conspicuously powerful triad of fantasy experience for the Everquest subjects.

Although there was no quantitative support for gambling and substance abuse hypotheses, it is worthy to note the number of subjects who played Quake, Everquest, or Starcraft to potentially obsessive levels. Whether the term "addiction" should apply to virtual role playing is, from a philosophical perspective, debatable, since one might argue (as Goffman does), that to live is to role play, and at a certain emotional point the terms virtual and real become severely muddled, as exhibited by Turkle and in this study. Nonetheless, there is something not illogical about the suggestion that one who plays Everquest for over sixty hours a week is in some sense, addicted. At the same time, it also appears that players of various games are willing to use the term addicted in relation to their gaming habits, though it is unclear if the word is being used in its strict form (the way it is used here), that is, in terms of an acute compulsion to play regardless of possible negative consequences. Yet, it is easy to feel the pathological tenor of this player's statement regarding the darker side of Everquest.

"Wanting to play so much you don't want to got to work or school. Or playing the game till the wee hours of the morning. When I first bought the game I was only getting about 5 hours of sleep a night. I was getting very cranky at work. I finally had to set a time limit. Otherwise I would play all night." (Yee, 2000)

 

That subject was able to set limits, but this player warns some may not have that power. It appears "alcohol" could easily replace "Everquest" in this statement and cause a negligible change in meaning.

 

"For some, life becomes sleeping, eating, (working maybe) and playing Everquest. It was for me for quite some time. This has to be dealt with, and I warn anyone I know that picks up the game about this aspect. I warn them to not get trapped in the game especially if they have significant others in their lives. Some can play casually, for others, the game is just too great to let it be just that."(Yee, 2000)

 

 

It is also not difficult to find subjects who claim to experience dreams in which they inhabit their computer. This gamer describes his experience with the first computer video game he owned. One wonders how much of the dream has a metaphorical meaning, and to what degree it is a simile for his actual experience.

 

"I played around on it so much that I had a nightmare that I had become an icon on the desktop and I couldn't get out. Then I stopped playing it for a few weeks."

 

 

Among the three games, it would appear Everquest offers the greatest potential for "dangerous' involvement, due mainly to its life-like premise. And in fact, the Everquest gamers do seem to be the most involved in their game of choice, playing for the greatest average amount of hours per week and also involved in the most on-line gaming communities or clans.

In all, there is nothing in this study to support an association between video games and other addictive behaviors, contradicting the findings of others such as Ladouceur (1995) and Phillips et al. (1995). However, the methodology employed here was hardly exacting and probably quite flawed, relying on an obtuse self-report. At best it offers a very general assessment of subjects' gambling and drinking sentiments and a more serious investigation is required for any reliable conclusions. That said, there is at enough evidence to urge further studies into the addictive qualities of the games themselves. However, it is hoped Turkle's Life on the Screen and the arguments presented here mitigate the potential for large scale investigations into this matter which better resemble "witch hunts" than objective science.

Of key interest to other researchers, there is nothing from this study to support earlier monographs such as the recent Carnegie Mellon study reported by Kraut et al. (1998) which associated Internet use and feelings of depression and loneliness. As far as this author is concerned, video games and other Internet applications serve to increase, not decrease the size of subjects' social circles, and the finding that within each game subjects' reported greater feelings of happiness is a telling result. The sole problematic finding in this study along those lines involved the high neuroticism rating for the extreme group of Everquest subjects.

 

Future Directions and Conclusions

As a domain of psychological research, video games have no past, a nearly nonexistent present, and an unknown future. Thus, it is almost impossible to prepare others for their own empirical sojourn into the world of the gaming code since a few short years will bring with it entirely novel virtual realities, interfaces, and probably, groups of subjects. By mid-2002, a staggeringly new generation of video games will have been released for gaming systems with names ranging from the futuristic X-Box (Microsoft Inc.) to the subtly evocative Dolphin (Nintendo Inc.). In truth, it would be misleading and glaringly ignorant to offer any concrete list of suggestions for future research into this field, and if the reader feels cheated by such a statement, the purpose of this labor has failed miserably. For, it is hoped that by now it is obvious that at some level, the research presented here has very little to do video games, and much to do with the human mind.

There is something special about the smile evoked by the mention of the game Pong to someone who spent hours wading through its spartan graphics and bland game play twenty years ago - indeed, something psychologically special. At the same time there is something even more special about the minute variances in the pitch and pace of one's voice, the ever so slight widening of the eyes, and the faint flair of the nostrils when a friend retells a recent adventure in Everquest. And as the games increase in realism and complexity, a more precise psychological tool is born; the greater degree of emotional and mental attachment one feels to a virtual realm, the greater the potential one has to learn about the human mind. For although this author is not a proponent of postmodern thought generally, it is hoped that from this research the reader has grasped a postmodern of idea of paramount importance. That is, this research should present a clear picture that in terms of emotional and psychological development, the distinction between the real and virtual is a null and void conceptualization.

This notion, of course, for many is a difficult concept to incorporate. It does not imply a multiplicity of self nor does it point to a psychology of solipsism. But where psychological well-being is involved, what good comes about from explaining to a patient who firmly yet erroneously believes she was abused as a child that her belief is unsubstantiated? The fact a tangible event never took place means nothing to the patient, for the meaning is in the feeling that the event took place. Likewise, what does one to stand to gain by explaining to an Everquest, Quake, or Starcraft player that the confidence felt in the game by hacking beasts, shooting enemies, and dominating other alien races is as worthless as those acts are unreal. As long as the gamer believes in the virtual world - absolutely nothing.

Thus, the key issue to internalize is that for many, what is experienced virtually is experienced physically, and to gloss over that point is to undermine and belittle thousands who use computer games to fulfill needs ranging from the sexual to the aggressive to the social. As Turkle implies, role playing is life playing, which likely has much to do with what Talbott suggests, that cyberspace behavior is automatic and runs naturally, guided by instinct and need. And if those needs and instincts are somehow more fulfilled at the end of a playing session than before, the consequences could range from feeling a little better, becoming addicted, or even non repressive sublimation. These potential outcomes are what are now in desperate need of investigation, and as the effects evolve alongside the constantly mutating gaming industry, the time to act on this issue is now.

Problems that will arise may involve the fact that the story of the gamer is as complex as the players are numerous, for each experience fits in an important way with each Quake, Everquest, or Starcraft player's psyche. Indeed, here there were three settings to describe and 223 egos to untangle, as each gamer's story contained a distinctly personalized bent. Thus, there is an inherent friction between positing gaming generalizations while concurrently honoring the experience of the individual, a point which was not entirely resolved in this study[47].

***

It has been argued that in all, there is something about the way one interacts in the video game context of their choosing (an important point in itself) which reflects on their own ontological state. Why some abhor the gaming world and all of its virtual contexts and why some choose to spend their life there is a matter for future investigation[48]. For at some level, all of us have at one point in time desired to be the trench hero, the peace winning diplomat, or the domineering General. At another level, some care not to acknowledge that fact, some become obsessed with it, and some simply have fun with it. In every case, however, the self is shaped by the extent to which we fulfill or estrange ourselves from those needs through physical or virtual avenues… and ultimately, in no case is the defense of the ego complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Submitted as a Senior Thesis to the Department of Psychology, Haverford College, May, 2000. Copyright ã Michael Oswalt, 2000. Do not quote, reproduce, or link to any part of this document without the permission of the author. Email Michael Oswalt

[2] The author is very grateful to Professor Douglas Davis for his unwavering support throughout this project, his willingness to consider what were often unconventional ideas, and of course, and his love of all things cyber. Special thanks also go out to Nick Yee '01 for his invaluable technical assistance, ingenuity and generosity in sharing his own research, as well as to Professor Marilyn Boltz for her words of encouragement and aid in shaping an early draft of this paper. This work is dedicated to all those with the courage to take a piece of cyberspace and make it their own.

[3] Sociologist Timothy Garner even suggests that the video arcade is a cultural metaphor for every American adolescent (1991).

[4] MUDs are virtual spaces in which one may interact with others, navigate, and build structures through the use of text. As such, communities, worlds, and even futuristic universes can be created for on-line use by anyone with access to the Internet. All physical and social institutions inherent in the physical world (e.g. buildings, restaurants, nature) can be replicated or invented with vivid description in the MUD world. As a result, the opportunities for interaction in a MUD are similar to those existent in the real world, with one psychologically important addition. Since one's body, persona, and even expressions are represented by one's written description, one has the potential to perform a number of self metamorphoses, entering the MUD as a different gender, species, race, or age. In this sense, MUDs are social laboratories for virtual relationships with others, and reflexively, with oneself. Within a MUD community, a member may spend an evening at a virtual French restaurant, have a virtual party, and even become virtually married.

[5] For instance, Turkle retells the story of Ava, a thirty-year-old woman who lost her leg in an automobile accident. As a result, Ava was terrified of entering into any sort of relationship with a man, her self image destroyed. But by creating a one-legged character on a MUD and interacting with both men and women in that more remote forum (including a sexual relationship with a man on the MUD), Ava was able to gain the confidence and emotional self stability to meet others freely in the physical world. The MUD allowed her to explore aspects of her new one-legged self, refining it and understanding herself before taking on the "real world" (Turkle, 1991, p.263).

[6] William Shakespeare, As You Like It. Act I, Scene 3. Lines 107-18.

[7] Goffman is especially taken by this William James quote: "We may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares."

[8] States Sartre in Being and Nothingness: "There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition." (Goffman, 1990, p. 82)

[9] Freud is not alone in this assertion. Noted sociobiologist Richard Dawkins contends that at base our genetic makeup is marked by "ruthless selfishness", noting that, "be warned…to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature."(1986, p.3)

[10] This patently unstable equilibrium in being is additionally sustained by a communal renunciation of instinctual gratification. Guilt, specifically communal guilt, is the singular surest avenue, according to Freud, to enforce this renunciation. In practice, aggressive impulses are displaced from the ego to the super-ego, then introjected not simply into each individual, but into the entire civilization as communal values and beliefs (1991b, p.315)

The formation of guilt is first detailed by Freud in Totem and Taboo and later applied in Civilization and its Discontents. Specifically, guilt arises from two sources, fear of an authority, and later on, fear of the super ego (1991, p.319). The former is assumed to bring about a renunciation of the instinctual satisfactions, thus is of import here. In simple terms, Freud takes the Darwinian conception that early humans, like the higher apes, lived in hordes in which one male was the father of the tribe, with many wives and a very large number of children. The young males were forced out of the tribe to find mates, while the young females were attached only to the leader of the horde. Out of this disagreeable situation for the young males, Freud hypothesizes that the young men rose as a body to murder the father and gain possession of the women, henceforth overcome by a tremendous collective sense of guilt owing to the patricide. As a result, thus arose the worshipped totem or the symbolic image of the deceased, reminding the horde that although the father had passed on at a human level, he must be preserved at a religious level. Following, various laws and mores were created to prevent another autonomous ruler of the horde and to secure an orderly society. Moreover, priests existed as keepers of past wrongs, ensuring the heavy burden of collective guilt was never far from consciousness (Freud, 1990, p. 71-131). In turn, the common basis for religion and civilization was thus created, systematizing the repression of sex and aggression.

 

[11] That is, in this instance, the repressive nature of civilization.

[12] Marx even states in German Ideology that highly advanced machinery might play a large role in a more perfect society by distancing laborers from their work (1947).

[13] Of note, this is still not to say that the self is in any way shattered or split, as Turkle presumes. Such a point is a clear category mistake. For as Robert Young asserts,"there is no such thing as a person without fundamental unconscious…[the self] is always based on the unity of an underlying process." (1995b, p.3) The idea of cyber-role playing infused with a postmodern model of self is psychoanalytically a null concept.

[14] As a result, it may even be the case that some pre-Internet empirical treatments of adolescent life must be reformulated. For instance, a complex study by Csikszentmihaly and Larson (1984) reporting both how and with whom adolescents spend their time would today be grossly inaccurate, considering the great amount of hours the average adolescent now spends interacting in cyberspace. Their simple breakdown of time spent with friends or alone is further confounded by on-line interactions while one sits solitarily by a computer, socializing with possibly hundreds over the Internet.

[15] Emphasis added.

[16] Ironically, it may not be the case that females cannot enjoy violence in any gaming form, as seems to be believed by the gaming industry, it may simply be that the violence in video games is perceived as grossly unrealistic. Gilligan suggests, and is supported by a 1982 TAT study (Pollack and Gilligan), that for females, violence and aggression are not tied to some sort of universal innate paradigm as is suggested by the saturation of violence in most game settings, but in fact arises from a specific fear of separation in relationships. The lack of any human relations in most video games probably contributes to their being perceived as unrealistic and boring.

[17] Although a New York Times article by David Blum reports that in relation to fear, an emotion many believe is intrinsically linked to aggressive behavior, the more exposure one receives the more tame its effects on the psyche (1999).

[18] The United States military has found a practical use for video games along these lines. In the early 1980s, the military commissioned Atari to create a simulation game in which missiles and destructive satellites are fired at an unknown country. The detached nature of the game, and of modern day warfare, lead President Reagan to suggest that the game probably helped prepare troops for battle in the Gulf War (Provenzo, 1991, p. 133).

[19] As originally described by Freidman and Rosenman (1974) in their seminal study on the topic: "Type A Behavior Pattern is an action-emotion complex that can be observed in any person who is aggressively involved in a chronic, incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time… Persons possessing this pattern also are quite prone to exhibit a free-floating but extraordinarily well-rationalized hostility."

[20] The London Times ran a headline in 1996 reporting, "Spate of suicides linked to US game." The article went on to note: "role playing games call for players to act out executions" - an obvious exaggeration.

[21] See Eysenck, H.J. (1991) for a critique of the 16PF, however.

[22] The fact that a genre of role playing video games exists is therefore not surprising.

[23]Along these lines, in what might be considered a technological premonition, Freud's 1915 paper, "The Unconscious" provides a pictorial representation of Freud's notion of the basic components of language formation. The diagram takes the form of an unmistakable web, urging one to question if Freud has foreshadowed the advent of the web structure of cyberspace which today guides the formation not of language, but of identity (1991b., p.183)

 

[24] Other more condensed theories of personality do, of course, still exist. Most notable is Eysenck's three factor Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ), consisting of the dimensions of Extraversion (E), Neuroticism (N), and Psychoticism (P). Although previous research in the area of gaming has more commonly used this three factor approach (e.g. Scott, 1995), replicating the P factor has proved to be problematic, most literature suggesting it is more descriptive of criminality than psychocticism as high scorers are usually found in prisons, not psychiatric institutions (McKenzie, 1988). For this reason, the more empirically solidified Five-Factor Theory is employed in this study.

[25] I.e. http://cgi.haverford.edu/acc/gather/gather511?Action=ListForms

[26] http://www.google.com/: Everquest - 17,000; Starcraft - 55,300; Quake - 164,999 (Quake 3 - 44,660). Results current as of March 23, 2000.

[27] E.g. Online: with people known from real life, with people known virtually, with unknown people, with people in the same room or single player against computer (possible only in Quake and Starcraft).

[28] Here "gambling" was suggested as a sample activity in hopes of priming a category of potentially addictive activities.

[29] As Everquest is primarily a virtual world of social existence and thus not explicitly goal orientated, a simple question of proficiency would appear awkward. Instead, the computer generated level of one's character (based on experience and combat record) can be seen as somewhat of a rough measure of one's ability to navigate the realm successfully. Character level was then translated coded and translated onto a proficiency scale identical to the one administered to Quake and Starcraft players.

[30] I.e. What makes the game enjoyable? What sort of personality is drawn to the game? Are characters within the game extensions of self or an invention? Why does a gender disparity exist for users of the game?

[31] Adjectives from Goldberg (1989): Extraversion - Ambitious, Bold, Spontaneous; Aggreeableness - Warm, Distrustful, Uncooperative; Conscientiousness - Self-Controlled, Thorough, Impractical. Adjectives chosen for saliency: Aggressive, Happy, Guilty, Warm, Creative/Imaginative, Competitive, Aroused, Complete/Whole, Unique/NonConforming, Introspective, Satisfied/Sated. The polarity of each adjective dimension was selected via random assignment.

[32] Posts typically were worded: "Hi! We're two undergraduate psychology students who love ________ (game) and are interested in investigating why people play it. It'd be a great help if you'd take the time to fill out our brief (15 minutes) on-line survey linked here. It should be informative, and hopefully fun. If you have any questions, please contact us at ___________ (email contact)."

[33] In all, approximately seven posts were completed for each game (e.g. Quake: http://www.Quake3nation.com, http://www.qgirlz.com;/ Everquest: http://www.eqhaven.com/boards, http://www.eq.stratics.com;/ Starcraft: http://www.battle.net/forums.shtml#sc, http://www.Starcraft.org/forums/). A complete list is available on request from the author.

[34] Note: Incongruous subject totals reflect missing data.

[35] Thirty hours per week of game play was selected as a largely arbitrary cut-off for the "extreme" hours grouping, though the number does intuitively suggest an abnormal degree of playing hours each week.

[36] This finding is mirrored by a significant positive correlation between time playing Everquest per week and neuroticism (r = .24, p<.05) among Everquest subjects.

[37] F(2,226) ratios are as follows: Aggression = 15.17; Self-Controlled = 2.72; Distrustful = 3.14; Warm = 34.7; Nervous/Anxious = 11.34; Competitive = 13.92; Aroused =3.76; Bold = 4.54; Uncooperative = 7.94; Introspective = 4.21.

[38] T values for figures 2(df = 52), 3(df = 89), and 4(df = 82) are as follows:

2.        Aggressive = 10.07; Self-Controlled = -2.53 ; Distrustful = 3.84; Spontaneous = 4.02; Happy = 3.18; Guilty = -2.07; Warm = -4.29; Nervous/Anxious = 2.60; Creative/Imaginative = -2.43; Competitive = 4.25; Bold = 4.55; Introspective = -6.11

3.        Aggressive = 6.144; Spontaneous = 4.99; Happy = 3; Guilty = -2.3; Warm = 2.98; Ambitious = 4.70; Nervous/Anxious = -2.14; Creative/Imaginative = -2.5; Aroused = -5.13; Thorough = 3.60; Bold = 6.22; Uncooperative = -4.28; Introspective = -5.06; Satisfied/Sated = 2.75

4.        Aggressive = 5.44; Self-Controlled = -2.06; Distrustful = 3.45; Happy = 2.73; Guilty = -2.01; Warm = -4.36; Nervous/Anxious = 2.43; Creative/Imaginative = -2.01; Competitive = 4.44; Aroused = -2.48; Unique/NonComforming = -3.53; Bold = 3.31; Introspective = -2.25; Satisfied/Sated = 2.67

 

[39] Rows do not total 100% as most subjects listed numerous leisure activities. For this reason, a chi-square analysis for significance was precluded.

[40] All of the following correlations are significant at the p<.05 level.

[41] Quotations cited as Yee, 2000 were selected from a qualitative study of the Everquest experience, conducted concurrently with the current reasearch, by Nicholas Yee, Haverford College.

[42] Assuming, of course, that a subject who plays two games concurrently chooses both games because each are complementary and not opposing.

[43] For instance, as shown when players reveal they often play Everquest and simply socialize within the world, choosing with whom, how, and when to interact.

[44] In fact, for this reason, Yee's unpublished study is likely more representative of the gaming population than the earlier described sole published work on Internet gender-bending which used a paltry thirty-three subjects (Wright, 2000).

[45] Of note, this gamer also claimed to have completed the games Myst and Riven before playing Everquest. Such a pattern of gaming implies this is an on going journey for self-betterment (Myst and Riven being role playing type games as well).

[46] Obviously Turkle is also concerned with personality in a similar sense, but the claims she submits about its role in cyberspace are linked to very specific case examples which illustrate her underlying point regarding the multiplicity of self. The reader is left with no framework to approach the issue of how personality generally interacts with MUDs or MOOs. This of course, may be a byproduct of an argument positing a post modern self. As discussed throughout, that claim runs contrary to the argument suggested here.

[47] To that end, two limits of the present methodology should be obvious. For one, there is a danger in relying on a large degree of aggregate data to help explain and describe transmutations of self. Within any given experimental question, the degree of individual differentiation is so great that reams of data may be rendered useless or worse, misleading. Much more is gained by closely examining the gaming experience of a few select and especially salient subjects who show extraordinary promise in revealing the most powerful changes effected by a virtual realm. For this reason it is unfortunate this study was unable to provide observational or focused interview data to supplement the experiences of specific subjects. Secondly, the assumption that most subjects would be involved in a singular gaming genre was a poor one. As revealed, most subjects in fact either had experience with an alternate game or actively played it. As a result,player comparisons between games may be highly confounded. Ideally, subjects devoted to a singular game in each genre might provide more exacting summaries of each game's psychic effect.

[48] And likewise, why those in the former category are overwhelmingly likely to be female.