Let’s Talk Psych and Gaming…

So, again in my endless quest for knowledge, I have been looking into a well established construct known as Deindividuation.

To keep is brief, it’s the concept that in large groups, or even in uniform, people have a tendency to lose their self-identity, in the case of the group, they tend to act with the hive mind, rather than their own. One extreme case of this comes from Oklahoma University in 1967 where a disturbed college student stood atop a building and was threatening to jump to his death. There was a large mass of student outside who seems to get caught up in the events, and as a group they all chanted “Jump! Jump!” … Guess what happened? Yeah, guy jumps, he dies. (UPI, 1967)

Was individual in the group of people thinking “Oh man, how cool would it be if this guy killed himself?” No, but as a large mass of people who have a certain sense of anonymity, certain inhibitions are lost and group mind takes over.

Another study showed women dressed in outfits similar to the KKK administering electric shocks to study participants, it was shown that these women were more likely to shock the people more frequently, and for longer durations than women who didn’t have their faces hidden and were wearing name tags. To further explore these results, another study was conducted in which women were dressed in nurse outfits, in this case there were much more critical in how they used their new-found power.

What can we gather from this?

Perhaps the outfit we put on has an effect on out behavior! Whodathunk?

Whats my point?

Online video games incorporate both of these things, we have deindividuation through groups, and through character creation, we display ourselves through our avatars, who in many cases are not us. Additionally, larger groups of gamers are more likely to troll and harass than gamers who are talking one on one.

Part of my research involves finding solutions for these issues, to find people who might slip into these habits and, assuming they don’t want to be an asshole, help remind them of who they are while they play a game.

One thing that I think worked a bit was when blizzard introduced their new battle.net friends list and forum settings, where people could not hide behind their character names as much, this didn’t actually change what you knew about each player who posted, other than their name, but even that added a certain level of accountability, and made players post as who they were. Sure, Blizzard lost a lot of fans this way, but perhaps the amount of trolling on their forums has been reduced.

I would almost support this sort of thing being normal, we have social networks such as Facebook out there where just about anyone can see, at the very least, your name, so why not have gamer tags provide players names, yes this will remove the gender anonymity in some cases, but psychologically, I believe it will reduce this “loss of self” in games and allow people to become more aware of who they are while interacting with people on platforms such as XBL.

It is my personal belief that there are a lot of people out there in the gaming world who do and say things they don’t actually mean. Not everyone online is a troll whose sole purpose in life is to make other people feel like shit, but there are people who simply lose that sense of self, and need a little help in recovering that while they are assuming these digital masks.

Thanks for listening! Next issue: Managing Aggression (in games) 🙂


  1. Interesting articles, I hope to read more from you in the future.

  2. I’ve nominated you for the Lieber Award, Check out my most recent post on my blog for the details.

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