Video game culture: College students’ obsession with gaming

By MARISA HIVNER
School of Communication
University of Miami

The year 2008 was an eventful year for the nation: George W. Bush signed legislation in response to the failing economy, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, and the Federal Communications Commission attacked the integrity of online gaming.

In December 2008, former FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate stated that online gaming, more specifically “World of Warcraft,” was one of the top reasons for college dropouts in the U.S.

Her statement, which remains completely unsubstantiated, caused quite a ruckus within the gaming community, leaving many gaming-outsiders to wonder: is the problem really gaming, or is Tate wrong?

A commonly held notion about gaming is that it is bad; it causes a disruption in the leisure time of today’s youth, barring them from major responsibilities, such as homework and other important obligations. However, there is little evidence found that supports this claim.

Because of this, the question arises: Is the problem really video games or is it a social construct used as a scare tactic to keep the gaming youth in check?

World of Warcraft is one of the best selling games of all time and is usually stocked in all major stores that sell video and computer games (Photo by Marisa Hivner).

In a recent study by the Pew Research Center where 27 institutions of higher education across the U.S. participated, students were anonymously surveyed about their gaming habits. Researchers found that 65 percent of college students reported playing video and online games regularly.

Students cited social interaction as one of the principal reasons for their game playing. The majority noted that it was a way of hanging out with friends, as 46 percent reported playing multi-player games.

“I live in ‘Nowhereville, USA,’ and none of my friends are here and there’s nothing to do,” said Kevin Woodford, a 23-year-old avid World of Warcraft player. “By playing WoW [World of Warcraft] I’m amble to fill my time and stay connected to the world, while meeting some amazing people.”

In fact, two-thirds of the surveyed gaming population believed that gaming helped them to spend time with friends who were not physically available at the time, due to the fact they may be in different geographical locations (such as friends from home).

One of the most popular games among college students is Call of Duty. It’s a multiplayer game that incorporates high resolution graphics to simulate wartime scenarios (Photo by Marisa Hivner).

“I have a lot of friends who don’t go to Miami and it’s difficult to keep in touch with them,” said UM senior Edmund Mandell. “But if you’re enjoying yourself and you’re both playing a game together it’s almost like you’re with that person.”

Mandell and Woodford are online friends.

Surprisingly, one out of every five students felt that gaming helped them make new friends and improve existing friendships.

Despite these clear social benefits gaming often offers, the powerful notion of negative repercussions still remains. But, is there any evidence to support these ideas of societal failure at the hands of gaming?

According to Pew, there is not. Research has found that 65 percent of gamers say their gaming habits have little to no influence in taking away time from friends and family.

“I am still able to function normally, even though I play a lot of video games,” said junior Nicholas Nayarach.

“Most of the time, my family plays with me,” said Mandell. “Obviously my mom doesn’t play, but she has her own little addiction to Farmville.”

While one in 10 students said their main motivation for playing was to keep from studying, the average number of hours spent studying per week by gamers matches up closely with that of the general college student population, with about 6 percent reporting seven hours a week or less.

Contrary to popular belief, gaming may have more psychological benefits than non-benefits.

“I would go crazy if I didn’t play,” said Woodford. “Otherwise, I’d have no one to talk to and nothing to do, except go to work. And that’s not much of a life.”

Mandell feels the same, saying gaming offers him a good break from life. “Overall, gaming affects me positively because otherwise, when I need a break to relax or whatever,” he said, “I could hope on and play for however many hours. Otherwise, I don’t really know what I would do.”

Research has found that most college students associate gaming with positive feelings; 36 percent with “pleasant,” 34 percent with “exciting,” and 45 percent with “challenging.” Fewer students reported feeling frustrated, bored or stressed from gaming.

As a result, it can be suggested that gaming should be implemented into curriculum, as Educause Quarterly has, because of all the positive reinforcements for students, as well as the relatability to students.

Even with all the supportive findings backing all this data, there are many naysayers out there, who only believe gaming negatively impacts the youth, like the FCC’s Deborah Tate.

Tate spoke on the subject after a student advisor at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, Vince Repesh, told his local newspaper he had seen students undergo severe academic consequences due to extreme gaming habits. However, just because these gaming addiction incidents occur does not mean they ravish society. In fact, popular opinion is that gaming addiction is not what keeps the youth unable to focus on what is important, but rather it is a lack of self-control and time-management skills.

“I know there are people who are very obsessive over playing games, but I don’t think it is that big of an issue,” said Nayarach.

“I don’t know if I’d say people drop out because they play video games, maybe it’s more like a general lack of interest,” Mandell said. “I can see how those things would be associated, but I don’t think people drop out because of video games. I don’t think it’s that simple.”

These opinions have been supported by some research, which indicates that more than half of gamers believe that only “some” or “vulnerable” players are negatively influenced by gaming.

Furthermore, an even greater majority of 76 percent felt that only a few college students become gaming addicts, leading researches to conclude that much of the “addictive-gaming pandemic” is just an exaggeration of severe incidents that are few and far between.

Additionally, Keith Bakker, the founder and head of Europe’s first and only clinic to treat gaming addicts, has found that 90 percent of gaming addicts are not addicted at all.

But rather than blame a game for the failure or incompetence of students, Bakker believes it would be of greater benefit to look more deeply at the habits of young people, and teach them how to cope with the freedom of parental authority in the respect of personal discipline, so that they have the proper tools to achieve greater success.

“I don’t go to school,” said Woodford, “but I heard they have addiction seminars during orientations that include gaming. So, I think they should probably have one that discusses time management and stuff like that.”

The fact of the matter is the video game culture is a permanent steeple in the college community. According to Mandell, it is something that should be treated with the same importance as alcohol and drug use.

“Well I think that people talk about alcohol a lot in college and they say ‘drink responsibly.’ I feel the same goes for playing video games,” he said. “Game responsibly.

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