Video games have come a long way since Pacman, Donkey Kong and Super Mario. Those were innocent, 2D games where the goal was to get your smiley character from, say, level one to level 10 to “win.”
But newer “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games” (MMORPGs) are much more intense. In these often dark worlds, you fight off enemies to complete a quest. You don’t just play against yourself or a person sitting next to you—you play against thousands of players all over the world—either through a computer, a game console such as PlayStation 3 or a phone. These aren’t games with a definite finish line—they are mazes that never end and there is a giant universe of competitors, so you can easily get sucked into playing them for hours per day.
These games aren’t always just minor hobbies. Like a drug or an alcoholic drink, these MMORPGs can be addictive—and a new study shows that they can wreak extreme havoc on your most intimate relationship, causing even more damage than you might think.
The study, which was done by researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, found that among 329 married couples who were, on average, in their 30s, video game playing had either a very positive or a very negative effect on their relationships—depending on whether one or both spouses played. The results: In couples in which only one spouse played, about 73% reported that gaming had either a “very negative,” “negative” or “slightly negative” effect on their marital relationship. They were also nearly twice as likely to report that gaming leads to quarreling compared with couples in which both spouses played. On the other hand, in couples in which both spouses played, about 76% reported that gaming had either a “very positive,” “positive,” or “slightly positive” effect on their marital relationship.
It could be true, of course, that when spouses fight a lot about other issues, one of them runs to play a game to avoid the conflict. But these findings suggest that the gaming itself could be the source of the conflict.
To learn more about the results, I called Neil Lundberg, PhD, one of the study’s lead authors and associate professor of recreation management and youth leadership at Brigham Young.
So why might gaming negatively affect couples in which only one spouse plays? Gaming can disconnect one spouse from his family and encourage him to neglect household responsibilities, Dr. Lundberg said. “About 82% of game play time happens from 6 pm to 11 pm, when people usually are off work and at home. So when one spouse is physically present but fully engrossed in the game, the other spouse may feel neglected,” he added.
What’s worse: Even when gamers were not actually playing the game, they were still thinking about the game. Gamers may not feel the need for as much interpersonal connection as their partners—because they get their “intimacy fix” by cooperating and competing with other online players, Dr. Lundberg explained.
Meanwhile, even though this study was about gamers, it somehow seemed like the modern-day version of golf widows, football widows and the age old marital challenge of keeping spouses connected while individuals pursue their own interests. Dr. Lundberg’s advice can be adapted to all of these situations—figure out ways to stay connected while creating relationship rules that allow each partner to pursue his or her passion as well.
How can you help your marriage and still get to play your game?
And whether you game, quilt or bicycle ride, be sure to share the experience with your partner by at least telling him or her all about it.
Source: Neil Lundberg, PhD, associate professor, recreation management and youth leadership, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, whose research was published in Journal of Leisure Research.