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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Fantasy games 'not for geeks'

By Brady Haran
BBC News Online

Mark Davies and Bloom Eternal
Alter-ego: Dr Mark Davies and his character Bloom Eternal
By day, Mark Davies is a respected psychologist from Nottingham.

But at night he becomes Bloom Eternal, a "wood elf druid" from the tree-top city of Kelethin.

Dr Davies is one of 400,000 people worldwide who play the online computer game EverQuest, a fantasy world where people assume new identities and roam in a virtual environment.

Now he has combined his two passions - psychology and role-playing - to shatter many illusions about online gamers.

With two colleagues at Nottingham Trent University, he has co-authored a study into people who play games online.

The findings dismiss the stereotype of a pimple-faced teenager locked in his bedroom.

Instead, today's player is just as likely to be a well-paid professional - male or female - aged in their 40s

The report, based on surveys of thousands of online gamers, shows some players are spending a great deal of time on the pastime.

There is an image that people who play online games excessively are nerdy and geeky
Professor Mark Griffiths

A quarter of those questioned said they played for more than 41 hours a week.

But Dr Davies does not think this is unhealthy.

He said: "Most people I know spend about 3-4 hours a night watching TV... so in many cases it is just a substitution of entertainment rather than some unfortunate development in their lifestyle.

"There will always be some people who do not manage to control their investment in a certain activity... but it is not a big problem."

This view is shared by co-author Professor Mark Griffiths, an expert in computer game addiction but not a player himself.

Professor Griffiths said: "Excessive use is not always a bad thing.

"Someone can have a couple of eight-hour stretches on the weekend without having a negative impact on their life... they just genuinely like the game.

Donkey Kong
A whole generation grew up with computer games, such as Donkey Kong
Professor Mark Griffiths

"It all depends on other commitments in your life... if you are married with three children, it probably will not go down so well and could cause immense problems.

"But it is okay for someone who is not in a relationship and does not have other responsibilities."

The report, "Breaking the Stereotype: The Case of Online Gaming", is based on online surveys of players of the game EverQuest.

Its key findings included:

  • Over 60% of players were older than 19.

  • About 85% of players were male.

  • Fifteen percent of people play for more than 50 hours a week.

  • A "significant minority" (15%) adopt a character gender opposite to their own.

Professor Griffiths said: "There is an image that people who play online games excessively are nerdy and geeky... This is not the case."

It will not necessarily be an acne-ridden adolescent locked in his bedroom
Professor Mark Griffiths

The only problems arose when people became addicted, he said.

The main sign of addiction was when playing started to have impacts on other parts of their life, such as relationships and work.

"It is important to recognise the difference between healthy enthusiasm and addiction.

"A healthy enthusiasm will add something to your life, whereas an addiction is taking away from your life."

Over 400,000 people play EverQuest

Dr Griffiths said many older online gamers were people who started playing when computer games were first developed.

"A whole generation that grew up with computer games, such as Donkey Kong and the old Atari, and it has not dropped out of their repertoire.

"Games are growing up with the people who play them.

"If we do this study in 10-20 years, there will be people who are in retirement and are playing computer games.

"It will not necessarily be an acne-ridden adolescent locked in his bedroom."

The study into online gaming is to continue.

The researchers are now sifting through 540 detailed questionnaires which will shed more light on the personality types of gamers.

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