Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 18:05 UK

Online gamers 'are not unhealthy'

No truth in the 'couch potato' stereotype about gamers

The "couch potato" image of computer gamers is unfounded, with many in better than average shape, claim US researchers.

More than 7,000 players of the online game EverQuest II were quizzed about their health by scientists.

They found gamers' body mass index (BMI) tended to be lower than the US average - with many taking "proper" exercise more than once a week.

But New Scientist magazine reports that depression was more common in gamers.

A lot of people talk about 'excessive gaming' as if it is always bad to take part in gaming, but the context can make a big difference
Professor Mark Griffiths
Nottingham Trent University

The increasing popularity of computer gaming has led to increasing scrutiny of its effects on the lifestyles and health of those who play the most.

Some have suggested that "excessive" gaming could fuel rising obesity and increase social and emotional problems.

The research, carried out by three US universities and published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, suggests this may not be the case.

They focused on just one game - EverQuest II, an online fantasy role-playing game - offering players a virtual weapon as a reward for returning the questionnaire.

Adult gamers had a body mass index of just over 25, which is the threshold for "overweight", while the US average is 28.

The average gamer also said that they engaged in vigorous physical exercise once or twice a week.

Obsessional or normal?

However, gamers did report more instances of depression and substance abuse than their non-playing peers, although whether this was caused by the game, or they were drawn to gaming because of pre-existing problems, is unclear.

Professor Mark Griffiths, the director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, said the findings tended to bear out previous research in the field.

He said that while asking people for details of their physical health did not always elicit truthful responses, there was no evidence that anyone, other than a small minority, were being harmed by their relationship to gaming.

He said: "A lot of people talk about 'excessive gaming' as if it is always bad to take part in gaming, but the context can make a big difference.

"I can think of two case studies of people who both spend 12 hours a day playing EverQuest, but while one is clearly obsessional, the other one is perfectly normal.

"Genuine addicts are few and far between."

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