After her wedding day, it seemed Beverly was heading toward her happily ever after. However, in two short months her marriage would be over, in part because of a video game habit her husband could not break.
The issue of video and computer games is becoming an ever-present topic. Simply by searching the term “gaming widow,” countless online sites pop up as a way to console and give support to individuals who feel they have lost their spouse to the virtual gaming world.
In a recent study for her master’s thesis, BYU student Michelle Ahlstrom found 70 – 75 percent of couples reported their marriages had been negatively affected by gaming when only one spouse gamed.
This damaging impact was the case for Beverly when her honeymoon ended and she returned to the humdrums of life.
- In a study at BYU it was found that people who play continuous online games have lower marital satisfaction. However, couples that game together and have similar skill levels report higher levels of marital satisfaction than other groups.
“I would leave for work at nine in the morning and come home after a full eight-hour shift, and he would still be in bed playing the game,” she said. “There would be food, chips and crumbs all over. He had no clue how much time had elapsed. To him it felt like I was only gone for an hour because he would get so wrapped up in his game.”
Beverly said she recognizes video games were not the sole reason why her marriage failed, but she said excessive use of them led to other problems and addictions which played a major role in its dissolution.
“It got to the point where I turned it off four times, made him a resume, got him in the car and drove him around places,” Beverly said. “It took me making him if he was going to do anything.”
This example, though unfortunate, is not always the case. Neil Lundberg, assistant professor in recreation management and youth leadership, aided in Ahlstrom’s BYU study, which yielded surprising results.
On average, 76 percent of the individuals who gamed with a spouse reported online gaming had a positive effect on their marriages.
“Gaming is not all bad,” Lundberg said. “In fact it has its place for certain couples if this is the kind of leisure activity that they’re more interested in. If they can do it together and interact together while they do it, then this is an activity that potentially can enhance their marriage.”
The BYU study focused on a specific type of gaming called a massively multi-online role playing game or a MMORPG. World of Warcraft, or WOW, now with more than 12 million members in 2011, was the game predominantly played by study participants.
“Online multi-games are games that never end,” Ahlstrom said. “You don’t save the princess. You don’t conquer the dragon or anything like that. It’s an online war that you are playing against other real players. They’re all around the world and people are playing together all the time so it’s continuous. It never ends and it’s something you get locked into.”
From her study, Ahlstrom said she surveyed gamers with an average age of 33. Independent gamers or couples where only one spouse played averaged 17.89 hours a week of play time and 84 percent of the participants were male. Gamers where husband and wife both gamed logged an average of 23.8 hours a week for the spouse who played more, and 11.6 hours a week for the spouse who played less. The national average for other studies was 22.71 hours a week for gamers in general.
While a positive correlation was discovered for couples who gamed together and had equivalent skill levels, the opposite was also proven.
From the study’s sample, 70 percent of the independent gamers and 75 percent of their spouses readily admitted their gaming negatively affected their marriage. The strongest correlation to a couple’s marital satisfaction was the amount of time couples spent quarreling about gaming.
“Studies have also found that gamers would rather be with their online friends than their real life friends and would rather tell them intimate things about themselves than they would a real life person, including their family members,” Ahlstrom said.
Another surprising discovery, Lundberg said, was finding the number of hours spent gaming per week did not have a significant correlation, but the level of addiction and pure consequence of playing online games did.
“So if a couple said, ‘We quarrel about gaming,’ or, ‘We don’t go to bed at the same time because of gaming,’ or, ‘We have other conflicts because of gaming,’ those folks had lower marital satisfaction scores,” he said. “It wasn’t strictly the people who gamed the most. It depends on what the relationship sees as acceptable and not acceptable.”
McKay Platt, bishop of the married student Provo 7th Ward, said he has not seen any true addictions in his ward.
“We define a disorder in medicine as a trait that starts to impact your marriage, your work, your sleep, your ability to earn a living or get an education,” he said. “I have personally not seen it rise to that level at BYU, but then couples don’t share every intimate detail.”
Gaming may not be a problem large enough for Platt’s involvement. However, he said once in a Sunday meeting, a lesson on sacrifice and what individuals should forfeit turned into a lengthy discussion about how individuals felt they should spend less time playing video games, computer games and even games such as Angry Birds and Sudoku.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, raised his voice of warning in a Church Educational System fireside in May 2009.
“Sadly, some young men and young women in the Church today ignore things as they really are and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions and detours that have no lasting value,” Bednar said. “My heart aches when a young couple experiences marital difficulties because of the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing. A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind and spirit numbing video and online games.”
While the results of current research recognize the amount of time spent gaming was not a major predictor of marital satisfaction, the participation and perception of the gaming activity was visibly significant.
“It was horrible and it led to a lot of other problems that ended up making it so our marriage just failed,” Beverly said.