Griffith et al.’s study “Competitive Video Game Play: An Investigation of Identification and Competition” attempts to analyze the relationship between sports video games and competitive behaviour (effects of competitive behaviour included enjoyment and state hostility). This study proposed six hypotheses, four of which ended up being disproved through their research. The core of these four hypotheses proposed that identification with the game would have an effect on the player’s enjoyment and state hostility. I propose that the hypotheses put forward in the study were disproved not because of the reason the authors gave, but rather because the scope of what the authors were measuring was too small; instead of measuring the effect of identification with a team within a game, the researchers should have measured the effect of identification with the game itself. As a result, I propose that this study could have had different results if the researchers had conducted it in this different scope, while still technically measuring the same theory.
The four hypotheses in questions stated the following:
Hypothesis 1 (H1): Player identification predicts enjoyment levels where playing as an identified team is more enjoyable than playing as a non-identified team (pg. 470);
Hypothesis 2 (H2): Opponent identification predicts enjoyment levels where playing against a salient team (e.g., main rival) will garner greatest enjoyment levels, followed by conference team and an “other” team, respectively (pg. 471);
Hypothesis 3 (H3): Player identification predicts state hostility levels where playing as an identified team garners greater state hostility levels than playing as a non-identified team (pg. 472);
Hypothesis 4 (H4): Opponent identification predicts state hostility levels where playing against a salient team (e.g., main rival) will garner greatest state hostility levels, followed by a conference team and an “other” team, respectively (pg. 472).
In these hypotheses, ‘player identification’ was measured in terms of playing as identified team, while ‘opponent identification’ was measured in terms of playing against a salient team. These hypotheses assume that a player’s identification with a game comes from the teams within the game. Contrary to this assumption, I propose that a player’s identification with the game comes from the game itself; the sport being portrayed in the game is what causes the majority of players to play the game.
Measuring a player’s identification in terms of identification with a team would not change the competitive nature of the game, as most player’s enjoyment of the game is not dictated by the team they are playing as, but rather the game itself. When playing a sport game that a player identifies with, a player who is in a close and competitive match with another player would likely experience the same levels of enjoyment or hostility regardless of what team he/she is playing as, or what team his/her opponent is playing as; identification with a team is inconsequential in the competitiveness of a sports game. However, enjoyment and hostility levels would change if the sports game was switched to a different sports game that featured a sport that the player did not identify as. If the two players had a similarly competitive and close match in a game they did not identify with, I propose that the enjoyment and hostility levels would change.
This idea is linked to the idea of discourse communities, or more specifically, competition within a discourse community. In this case, the discourse communities are the different sports that the sports games are based on: soccer, football, rugby, hockey, and basketball are all examples. As Garcia et al state in their article “The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective”, “people compete on dimensions that are relevant or important to the self” (pg. 637). 1thinktwice gives a personal example of volleyball in an article that discusses what makes us more competitive. She states that on her “volleyball varsity team back in high school”, she “behaved in a more competitive manner towards a teammate who had the same role (libero)” as her. I believe it is fair to assume that if she was placed in a sport that had no relevance to herself, she would not have competed as hard for a spot on the team.
In applying this concept in relation to sports video games themselves, I would like to turn to a personal example. I have grown up playing soccer — I started playing organized soccer at the age of 6 and I still play today, 12 years on. As a result of my past in soccer, I identify with, and play, FIFA: a series of sports games for soccer. When playing this game with a friend, we often randomize the teams we are playing as in order to pick two teams of similar quality; the teams themselves don’t matter. With these randomized teams, fixtures were still very competitive as my friend and I both identified with the sport of soccer. If the game had been switched to a different sport game such as Madden (a football game), I can say, with confidence, that the games would be far less competitive as I do not identify with the sport of football; I don’t understand the rules, tactics, players, or even how to play really (I can’t speak for my friend).
I believe it to be important to make this analysis as it shows that research and results depends a lot on what the research is actually measuring. While the study would still technically be measuring the same thing (the effect of player identification on competitive behaviour), measuring player identification in terms of a team within a game instead of the game itself would likely yield very different results. Had the four hypotheses listed above been proved in the study, the researchers would have been able to derive different conclusions, which could lead to a different application of the study in the world.
Of course, my analysis has not necessarily proved anything — I have not conducted my own research on whether player identification with a sports game would change a player’s reactions to competition in that game; I can only speak from personal experience, and my experiences are not the same as others. I believe it would, at the very least, be valuable to conduct a separate study that measures player identification in terms of a game itself. Studies such as this, including the study conducted by the authors of the original paper, help us to better understand the effects of gaming on gamers.
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