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Master of Mythical Warfare...But Maybe Not of Marriage

You awaken with a startle, the clang of metal against metal resounding in your ears. To your left, someone’s scream of anguish is cut ominously short. To your right, a primal war cry, mixed with the menacing growls of large feral creatures, chills you to the bone. You bolt up from the couch in a panic, only to find that you’re not in danger after all, at least not of being gutted by a Death Knight. However, your gamer spouse, who is stabbing frantically at the keyboard, eyes glued to the battle unfolding on the computer screen, might be missing some vital limbs soon if you don’t both get some sleep.

Sound familiar? A recent study on marital satisfaction and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) focused on disagreements between spouses about gaming.1 MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft, involve virtual worlds with thousands (or millions) of other players. Players create characters, join clans or guilds (groups of gamers playing together), and explore the fantasy world while completing quests, fighting battles, and gaining experience points, money, and rare game items. Because thousands of players are logged in at any given time and there are always other gamers to engage, MMORPGs can be addictive. Also, because some game activities require group participation at specific times, MMORPGs can dictate how gamers schedule their non-gaming time with spouses, children, and friends. For avid players, spending hours in the game world is as normal as going to work or school in the real world.

In the study, 349 married couples responded to measures of marital satisfaction, online gaming addiction (non-gamers responded to an Internet addiction measure), and other issues related to gaming (e.g., fighting about gaming, hours spent gaming, going to bed at the same time). To study the responses, the researchers categorized couples into groups where only one partner played games or both partners played games but one partner played more. They also ranked people, according to how much time they spent gaming, into categories of those who were more avid gamers versus casual gamers and non-gamers.

Couples with one gamer partner were significantly less satisfied in their marriages compared to couples in which both partners played games. In this category, gamers (54%) and non-gamers (62%) said that they fought about gaming once in a while or more; whereas when both partners were gamers, fewer avid gamers (34%) and casual gamers (33%) said they fought about gaming. For one-gamer couples, the majority of both partners felt gaming had a bad influence on their relationship. However, when both partners were gamers, the majority thought that gaming had a good influence on their marriage.

For all couples, frequently fighting about gaming and not maintaining the same bedtime were linked to less marital satisfaction. Only gamer couples were less satisfied in their relationship when the avid gamer had higher levels of gaming addiction. Gamer couples were more satisfied if they interacted with each other in-game and played the game together, but being in the same guild or clan meant less satisfaction, possibly because the casual gamer’s lower game level restricted the avid gamer’s (and the guild’s) ability to complete group quests successfully. A disparity in level or ability may lead to friction instead of fun between couples

Gamers, if your spouse pulls the plug on you the next time you run a late-night quest, work out some times when you can set aside your level 85 mage (and paladin and warrior and...all of your characters, okay?) and level up in your marriage instead. MMORPGs aren’t the only place where you can gain skills and experience.

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1Ahlstrom, M., Lundberg, N.R., Zabriskie, R., Eggett, D., & Lindsay, G.B. (2012). Me, my spouse, and my avatar: The relationship between marital satisfaction and playing Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). Journal of Leisure Research, 44(1), 1-22.

Dr. Helen Lee Lin - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Helen's past research has focused on potential problems in relationships, such as keeping secrets from a significant other. She is also interested in communication as well as the use and consumption of media in relationships, and is planning to work in applied contexts for her future projects.

image source: chicagotribune.com

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