Gamer Behavior Studies: A Cautionary Tale

By  |  Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Gaming If you read PC World, the Wall Street Journal or any number of gaming and tech blogs, you may have heard that video games are linked to poor relationships with friends and family, plus drug and alcohol use, according to a study by Brigham Young University.

I got wind of this at Kotaku last week and brushed it off for reasons I’ll explain later. The study was based on a survey of 813 university students who reported how often they played video games, then answered questions on the time, trust, support and affection they give to friends and parents.

Though the correlation between gaming and poor relationships was “modest,” professor Laura Walker, who mentored the undergraduate student behind the study, said that “everything we found clustered around video game use is negative.”

My first reaction was dismay, as I looked for a reason to discredit this damaging argument against my favorite hobby. Enter Kotaku’s Brian Crecente with an analysis:

BYU is a private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which … mandates behavior in line with Mormon teachings. That means no extra-marital sex, or use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, tea or coffee.

[This] doesn’t mean that the findings or interpretation of the survey results are skewed, but it is certainly something that should be kept in mind.

And so my fears were allayed. Jump to today, when Kotaku reports a bit of backpedaling by Walker. She apparently tells a reader that the study wasn’t biased, and mostly defends its findings, but admits that games are “just a piece of a much bigger puzzle,” and “not causal.” As Crecente points out, none of this was clear in the initial press release that led to so many news stories. He then points a finger at the mainstream press for getting the story wrong and blames BYU for not coming forth with these details sooner.

But what’s bothering me most is what happens in the interim. The fact that game journalists — myself included — were willing to disregard the story because it came from a religious institution is unsettling. Certainly, the university shares some blame for opening the door to this kind of speculation, but writing off the study without all the facts is just as slippery a slope as running with the story.

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