Study: Online Role-Playing Games Change Users' Lives

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Role-playing games with an Internet element are so much more captivating than equivalent electronic games that they change users' lives, cutting into their sleep and boosting the time they spend playing, a new study shows.

So-called massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs, have become a huge phenomenon in the game world in the last five years.

The largest, "World of Warcraft," has more than 9 million players.

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The study by Joshua Smyth, a Syracuse University psychology professor, says one reason for their success is they really suck in players.

Smyth divided 100 student volunteers randomly into four groups.

One got tokens to play at a local arcade, a second played the adventure game "Gauntlet: Dark Legacy" on a Sony Corp. PlayStation 2 console and the third played role-playing game "Diablo II" on computers.

Only the fourth group, which played MMORPG "Dark Age of Camelot," also on computers, had online interaction.

After a month, the MMORPG players — the fourth group — reported playing on average 14.4 hours in the previous week, more than twice as much as the next most avid players, the "Diablo II" group.

The "Dark Age of Camelot" players also reported significantly lower overall health and poorer sleep and were more likely to find the games interfered with their studies and social lives.

On the other hand, they had more fun playing and were more likely to say they had made new friends, presumably online.

The study was published in the October issue of the journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior.

Smyth noted that most of the public debate on video games has centered on their often violent content, while the "enthrallment" potential, which can have both good and bad effects, hasn't received much attention.

Unlike some researchers in the field, Smyth doesn't consider games "addicting," however.

He said in an e-mail that addiction is a specific phenomenon that can't be applied to games, even MMORPGs.