Gamers More Numb to Pain, Others' Misery, Say Scientists

I'm not sure what to make of this study, by researchers in Germany and Australia. On a literal level, RPG gamers are better than others at fishing paper clips out of a container of ice-cold water. Scientists think that means they're desensitized either to pain or, going further, important life events, even.

The study, recently published by the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, tested the reactions of those who played immersive video games, particularly RPGs. Participants were surveyed on how much time they spend each week playing video games. Then their pain tolerance was measured by the number of paper clips they could pull out of a container of very cold water. They performed that task again after playing video games.

"The immersive video-game players exhibited a reduced sensitivity to pain and removed significantly more paperclips from ice-cold water," reports Science Daily today. "They were also more indifferent to people depicted as experiencing displeasure than were the nonimmersive players."

The researchers, from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany and Melbourne University in Australia, connect this to a human performing the actions of "an automaton-like avatar." In particular, Dr. Ulrich Weger, of Witten/Herdecke, says it indicates a "blurring of reality" that comes from virtual environments where it is normal to regard computers and robots as functioning like human beings—whether that is in conversation or action.

Weger notes, somewhat gravely, that people should work on "our awareness of what it really means to be human. We should also look into how we can best make use of the beneficial applications of robotic or artificial intelligence advances, so as to be able to use our freed up resources and individual potentials wisely rather than becoming enslaved by those advances."

If it's true that playing immersive games, particularly role-playing games in which players create a totally new identity, dull one's humanity, then I suppose it explains anecdotal instances where children die or are harmed by the negligence of MMO-addicted parents—incidents that have gotten a lot of news attention over the past several years.

I'll say this, though, I'm now tempted to test my level of pain tolerance after playing other types of games—from Spelunky to LEGO Marvel Super Heroes to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14.

Virtually Numbed: Immersive Video Gaming Alters Real-Life Experience [Science Daily]