Usage of digital games is common within the whole population. Gaming has been widely studied but so far research has been mainly focusing on the pros and cons in general. Master of Psychology and a doctoral student at the University of Turku, Suvi Holm, says that it would be more interesting to study the subject as a cultural, everyday phenomenon.
– Gaming is very commonplace but parents are worried when their kids do it because there is not really a consensus on what it means and how it should be reacted to, except to be horrified. We should be able to talk about it but the research drags behind. We are still pondering whether gaming should be allowed or not when everyone is already doing it, a former school psychologist Holm says.
"Gaming is very commonplace but parents are worried when their kids do it because there is not really consensus on what it means and how it should be reacted to."
She says that another reoccurring problem is that gamers are often seen as one group when the spectrum is wide. This is why Holm's doctoral thesis intends to investigate the relevance of the differences in individual preferences and cognitive skills between gamers, and the affect of those on emotions and information processing during gaming.
– Gamer classification has previously been quite limited. It also needs to be taken into consideration that there is a huge variety of games too. It is the same when we talk of literature; it is a completely different thing to talk about a children's picture book or Dostoevsky, she says and gives an example of one of her studies.
In laboratory conditions sensors placed on the hands and face revealed that people who were known to like games that contain violence reacted less when playing those type of games than people who do not like the so-called shooter games.
– The emotional response of people who like these games was lower than that of those who do not like them. The latter had a faster heart rate and they were sweating more. The study hints towards the idea that there are individual differences between people, and therefore it is not correct to say that one particular game would have the same effect on everyone, says Holm.
The popularity of digital games continues to grow in the future
Individual differences have also been detected by studying the eye movements of gamers. Some people are naturally better at visual outlining than others, which is a key ability in many video games. Those who are more skilled at multiple object tracking were able to follow a game with fewer eye movements than members of a control group who were working harder to keep up with the game.
– Individual differences might explain why gaming is easy and pleasant for some people while others consider it uninteresting or even stressful. This will have to be taken into consideration when the effects of gaming are studied in the future, Holm tells.
Holm believes that the humankind continues its course towards a more digital direction.
She doesn’t think that the popularity of digital games is a passing phenomenon, quite the opposite. Holm believes that humankind will continue its course towards a more digital direction while the amount of face-to-face communication will decrease.
– If I had to be a visionary then I would say that the usage of entertainment will diversify over time. In the future we might wear VR glasses when watching a movie and choose ourselves what happens in the film. I would like to investigate people’s lives in the future too, she says.
Doctoral student at the University of Turku, Suvi Holm, received a one-year grant from the Varsinais-Suomi Regional Fund in 2019 to work on her doctoral thesis.