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Online Medieval Fantasy Games -- Threat to Marital Bliss?

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Marital harmony may be in short supply in households where one partner is immersed in online games such as World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings and Guild Wars, new research suggests.

When one spouse spends time in this online fantasyland, it can threaten marital satisfaction, said researcher Neil Lundberg, an assistant professor of recreation management at Brigham Young University.

In this study, published in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of Leisure Research, Lundberg and his team polled 349 couples. Of those, 132 were marriages in which one person played online games; the other 217 were marriages in which both played but one played more than the other.

In those marriages where just one partner played, the investigators found 70 percent of the gamers and 75 percent of their spouses said the activity had a slightly negative to a very negative effect on the marriage.

"This study clearly verifies that video gaming can be a significant impediment to happy marriages," Lundberg said.

However, there was a surprise finding: those who played together generally liked it, with 76 percent saying it had a positive effect on their marriage.

The games are always ''on" and play in real time, Lundberg said. "It's very engaging in terms of its environment. It has the potential to really capture people's time use."

Some find the chance to "become" a dragon slayer or other medieval hero irresistible, he noted.

The fallout from too much video gaming included quarreling, which was more common when one partner gamed and the other didn't.

The couples were about age 33 and married about seven years, the study authors noted.

The gamers put in 17 to 22 hours a week, often in addition to work and family responsibilities.

"It's like a part-time job," Lundberg said.

The friction occurs, Lundberg said, because the gaming interferes with communication and connection time. Couples in which one partner gamed reported, for instance, that they went to bed at different times.

The amount of conflict stirred up, rather than just the amount of time spent playing, made the impact on marital satisfaction, he noted.

In recruiting people for the study, Lundberg said he went to gaming sites and social media sites. He received negative reaction, he said, from extreme gaming sites. He said they may have been loathe to take a few minutes away from their gaming to answer the researchers' questions.

The finding about gaming ''widows" doesn't surprise Eve Kilmer, a Denver psychologist who specializes in couples counseling.

A partner who reaches out to communicate but is often ignored because the spouse is engrossed in gaming is eventually going to become dissatisfied, she said.

"In someone prone to addiction, there may be underlying intimacy issues anyway," she added.

For a spouse who feels like a gaming "widow" or "widower," Kilmer suggests addressing the issue in a positive way.

"If you are going to bring it up with your spouse, you don't want to be critical," she said. Instead of telling a partner what you wish he wouldn't do, tell him how you feel when he does it, she suggested.

Telling your partner, for instance, that too much gaming makes you feel unimportant and unloved ''is more likely to evoke understanding and empathy," Kilmer said.

More information

Here's more about video gaming addiction.

SOURCES: Neil Lundberg, Ph.D., assistant professor, recreation management, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; Eve Kilmer, Ph.D., Denver psychologist; Feb. 15, 2012, Journal of Leisure Research

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