While other players in massively multiplayer online games may be questing, pwning or leveling up, students and staff of the CSU Department of Anthropology are conducting field work.
From World of Warcraft to, more recently, Guild Wars 2,Colorado State cultural anthropology Professor Jeff Snodgrasshas gathered research in online communities alongside students in his class, Cultures of Virtual Worlds: Research Methods.
For Snodgrass’s current class, buying a copy of Guild Wars 2, which Snodgrass made available through the CSU bookstore, is a requirement. From then on, students practice field work in the virtual world, interacting with real people, conducting interviews and collecting field notes.
“It’s that multiplayer dimension that piques the interest of an anthropologist,” Snodgrass said.
According to Snodgrass, the stereotype of a gamer as a young man unemployed and living in a basement is false. He says there are a variety of different people who play MMOs, differing in age and with different education and income levels. However, Snodgrass said around 70 percent of MMO players are males in their late twenties with a high or average income level.
Recently, Snodgrass, alongside researchers from UCLA, the University Alabama and the University of Utah, published their findingsin a paper entitled, “A vacation from your mind: Problematic online gaming is a stress response.” They concluded that, although there may be negatives associated with excessive use, MMOs such as World of Warcraft can serve as stress relievers.
“In this sense, online video gaming is not so different from other hobbies or passions initially pursued for pleasure but which can turn compulsive, be it long-distance running, chess and bridge, or sports fandom,” stated the study.
According to the study, MMOs can act as a true form of escape that may reach problematic levels for those who live in stressful situations. The study compiled interviews from various players detailing their personal experiences. Some players dealt with different offline stresses that resulted in excessive amounts of playing.