New Research Explores Why Some Players Cheat and Troll in Online Games

New research published in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology explores what drives players of online games to engage in bad behavior such as cheating. A study of the habits of people who play online games shows that anonymous users are more likely to cheat, but their behavior is (usually) significantly tempered by the culture and dynamics of the group of players they associate with, suggesting that other forms of online ‘bad behavior’ – such as flaming and trolling – can be modified by the attitudes and behaviors of other group members.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, looked into the gaming habits of over 900 teenagers ages 13 – 18 and found that the frequency of gaming with online strangers (anonymous gaming) significantly predicted the frequency of cheating. They also observed that male gamers cheated more frequently than female gamers and that female gamers were more likely to cheat as a consequence of group identification than male gamers.

Researchers conclude that "… deviant behaviors online, such as game cheating, are largely influenced by the online social groups people feel they belong to. An online group, despite its fluid, unstable and imaginary nature, is powerful in constructing and changing its members’ attitudes and views on behaviors. Hence, a behavior that is perceived as problematic and deviant can be reconstructed with a different interpretation."

The study by Vivian Hsueh-Hua Chen and Yuehua Wu, published in the current issue of the journal Behaviour & Information Technology, is the first of its kind to deliver empirical evidence that the sociological phenomenon known as SIDE (Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects) has a role in online behavior. The SIDE theory argues that anonymity does not necessarily lead to the loss of self-awareness or weakened internalized behavior controls, as had previously been thought. Anonymity increases the importance of social/group identity, and leads to greater conformity within a group.

Chen and Wu’s findings come from a 2009 survey of online gaming behavior among 941 teenagers (mean age 16) who reported playing MMORPGs for on average of 14 hours per week. They also conducted six follow-up focus group sessions among participants who were experienced gamers and very familiar with game cheating.

You can check out the research here: "Group identification as a mediator of the effect of players’ anonymity on cheating in online games" (by Vivian Hsueh-Hua Chen and Yuehua Wu, Behaviour & Information Technology, published by Taylor & Francis)

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