Monday, 17 March 2014

Gamers find it easier to relax and detach from work

A new study suggests digital gaming during leisure time is associated with better recovery from working stresses, particularly when that gaming involves online interaction with other people. Contrary to prior research, time spent gaming is not an influential factor upon the findings. This suggests that rather than game play steadily replenishing personal resources, the act – or mere availability – of gaming can be beneficial in a range of forms, from a quick zap to longer immersive sessions.

UCL researchers Emily Collins and Anna Cox conducted their study with 491 adults with ages up to 70, approximately half of whom were women. 216 were non-gamers, and the remainder reported how much time they spent playing what type of games, as well as whether it provided access to online social networks. Gamers reported more psychological detachment from, and greater ability to relax after work, which are key components of the recovery experience. Online social support magnified those positive relationships. Note that two other components of recovery, having mastery experiences and a sense of control, were not higher in this sample of gamers; a little surprising, as other studies have predicted and found such relationships

Gamers who spent more time on their hobby did not show differences in recovery, but were more likely to believe that their home life affected their work, in ways both bad (draining or impairing their operation at work) and good (generating skills that have relevance to the workplace). Note that we can't draw conclusions about causality: perhaps more intensive gamers are more likely to have rich and/or demanding home lives aside from their hobby.

A few wrinkles in the study merit a mention. As mentioned, we shouldn’t guess at the direction of effects in what is a correlational study. Adults were recruited from online forums, so an amount of self-selection going on. Also, I haven't given much focus to one of the 'sells' of the study - a breakdown of effects by type of game – because the First Person Shooter (FPS) type dominated the sample, replicating most of the effects described above, whereas the remaining categories had very small n-sizes and consequently non-significant effects that are hard to interpret with any great meaning.

Ubiquitous access to work-related digital technology has a negative association with detachment and recovery from work, but as this study highlights, evidence increasingly suggests that use of recreational digital tech has the reverse effect. Such contrasts shouldn’t surprise us, as digital technology isn’t a single phenomenon but a substrate to our lives, composing manifold activities, experiences and processes that influence us in very different ways. We're in the early stages of understanding how it is transforming our leisure time, and how that in turn influences our readiness and capability to work.


ResearchBlogging.orgCollins, E., & Cox, A. (2013). Switch on to games: Can digital games aid post-work recovery? International Journal of Human-Computer Studies DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2013.12.006

Further reading:
Reinecke, L. (2009a). Games and recovery: The use of video and computer games to recuperate from stress and strain. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 21, 126-142. 

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  2. Minor amendment: "UCL researchers Emily Cox and Anna Collins" needs to be amended to Collins, E., & Cox, A. (2013), i.e. wrong first names!

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