Online role playing games in which both spouses play affect real-life marital satisfaction, according to a new Brigham Young University study published Feb. 15 in the Journal of Leisure Research.
The researchers, led by graduate student Michelle Ahlstrom, and recreation management professor Neil Lundberg, studied 349 couples to learn how online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, affect marital satisfaction for both gamers and their spouses.
The study found that 76 percent of couples who both play online said that gaming has a positive effect on their marital relationship. In cases where both partners were satisfied with their mutual participation, interacting with each other’s avatars led to higher marital satisfaction.
“Not all video games are bad,” said Ahlstrom, the graduate student. “Some are fun leisure pursuits that when played together may strengthen your relationships with others.”
As I explained in my book, The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games:
Informational disinhibition can lead to a tight-knit community, as players share information much more intimately and quickly than they would in a similar face-to-face setting. RetroMUD’s community is so tight knit that it’s been responsible for some marriages. At least three couples met and were later married as a result of playing on RetroMUD. This isn’t unique to RetroMUD either: 8.7 percent of male players and 23.2 percent of female players have had an in-game wedding (Glenday 2008: 184). And of course, I met my wife over a MUD.
The study also reported that 75 percent of spouses of gamers wished they would put less effort into their game and more effort into their marriage. It’s not the time spent playing games that caused dissatisfaction, but rather the resulting arguments or disrupted bedtime routines. These arguments led to poorer marital adjustment, less time spent together in shared activities and less serious conversation.
The researchers believed the problem could be more severe than the study indicated because they found many gamers were not willing to participate. The respondents averaged 33 years old with an average marriage of 7 years. In all cases men dominated: 84 percent of single-gamer households were husbands vs. 73 percent in dual-gamer households were husband.
“This study really does verify that gaming has an effect on marital satisfaction,” Lundberg said. “It’s not just a random occurrence that a few couples are dealing with. Based on the large number of married gamers – 36 percent of multi-player online role-playing gamers report being married– we can assume this is a widespread issue.”
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