Welcome to Pocket Science: a glimpse at recent research from Husker scientists and engineers. For those who want to quickly learn the “What,” “So what” and “Now what” of Husker research.
Surveys suggest that between half and two-thirds of U.S. adults play video games. Of those who do, as few as 20% identify themselves as gamers. That reluctance to self-identify could stem in part from persistent, pejorative stereotypes surrounding the physical, social and mental well-being of those who game, says Nebraska sociologist Lisa Kort-Butler.
According to social identity theory, that self-identification may influence the extent to which someone adopts the norms, behaviors and supports of gaming communities. Despite this, researchers often disregard self-identification — or impose their own, varying definitions of “gamer” — when studying the effects of gaming.
To examine the potential links between gamer self-identification and health, Kort-Butler consulted survey data from 877 students at a public university. That survey divided respondents into one of three categories: non-players; players who don’t identify as gamers; and self-identified gamers.
When controlling for demographics, Kort-Butler found that the self-rated physical health of gamers was slightly lower than non-players’, rating a 3.62 vs. 3.83 on a 1-to-5 scale. But gamers were also less likely to binge-drink and no more prone to aggressive behavior, despite rating their game choices as slightly more violent.
Though gamers spent more time playing, frequency of play did not predict well-being, suggesting that classifying gamers on that basis alone would have proven uninformative. Splitting respondents into only non-players vs. players, meanwhile, might have concealed notable distinctions between players and gamers — including reports of less social support among the latter.
Kort-Butler said the findings reinforce the value of asking respondents to self-identify as gamers, and understanding why they do, when attempting to draw out potential causes and consequences of playing video games. Doing so could help researchers better interpret the mental and social implications of gaming, especially when making tricky distinctions between, say, highly engaged vs. addicted gaming.