Fear of death may motivate us to play games excessively
A new study examines our fear of death as an unconscious motivation for gaming.
Video games are a form of escapism — a way for us to run away from the problems of the world and bury our heads in the sand. Consequently, video games offer a form of distraction to escape from the problem of death. After all, reminders of death compel us to do things that make us feel better about ourselves in order to cope with the anxiety.
Apart from distraction, video games can also reinforce self-esteem and close relationships through a myriad of stimuli that gamers find comfort in. These include a sense of achievement and feeling of competence, as well as the ability to socialise with other players.
Finally, some gaming elements could facilitate the pursuit of symbolic immortality. Dr Peter Chew, Senior Lecturer of Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore, points out, “For example, most games have a leaderboard where highly-skilled gamers are ranked and honoured. Also, game avatars enjoy virtual immortality; upon death, gamers have the option of either restarting the game or reviving the avatar. Taken together, gaming could help cope with the terror associated with mortality salience.”
Therefore, Dr Chew believes that an increase in mortality salience (in other words, the conscious awareness of death) is linked to a simultaneous increase in gaming activity, due to the ways gaming allow individuals to cope with both psychological distress and the problem of death. By studying over a 100 participants, Dr Chew hoped to further examine the effects of mortality salience on gaming activity.
The results showed that participants who faced mortality salience had a higher duration of gameplay, and were consistent with previous studies demonstrating self-esteem attempts following reminders of death.
“Specifically, participants might be playing longer to accumulate higher scores on the game. In doing so, they could obtain a sense of achievement and satisfy their need for competence,” explained Dr Chew. “More importantly, the high scores could provide a boost to their self-esteem, enabling them to cope with the terror associated with mortality salience.”
In addition, male participants had a higher duration of gameplay than female participants. As such, males are more likely than females to respond to mortality salience with increased gaming activity. This highlights the risk for males to engage in potentially problematic gaming activity during periods of heightened mortality salience, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chew, P. K. H., & Ayu, I. N. (2022, November 10). Death Anxiety as a Gaming Motivation: An Exploratory Study. The Humanistic Psychologist. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hum0000305
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