Category Archives: Competitions

Teaming with gain: Are daily fantasy sports a form of gambling?

Fantasy sports games have been popular for many years and involves individuals assuming the role of a professional sports team manager (typically football) and assembling a virtual team of sportsmen to compete against other players within a private or public league. For decades, the game was played out across the whole season with the winners being those that had accumulated the most points (with the points gained being based on the real-life statistics of individual sportsmen using a predetermined scoring system).

However, fantasy sports have changed dramatically over the last few years. Although the game can still be played over a whole season, the playing of daily fantasy sports (DFS) has become increasing popular (particularly in countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia) and can operate over much shorter time periods. In DFS, players can pay to play and this has led to the blurring of lines of whether the activity is a game or whether it is gambling. As Dr. Dylan Pickering and his colleagues noted in a 2016 issue of Current Addiction Reports:

“Daily fantasy sports (DFS) is the most recent and controversial of FS games…It is an accelerated version of FS conducted over much shorter time periods: generally a single game (per day) or weekly round of competition. Users pay entry fees ranging from US 25 cents to US $5000 per league, which is deposited into a prize pool typically paid out to the highest ranked users in the contest. A portion of the entry fees also goes to the operator as commission. Accordingly, DFS, as such, is most associated with wagering. Currently, the US DFS market is dominated by ‘FanDuel’ and ‘DraftKings’ (combined with about 95 % of the market)”.

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According to figures in the same paper, in the USA, the fantasy sports (FS) market is currently estimated to be between $3 billion and $4 billion. In 2015, approximately 57 million Americans played FS. Research suggests that the prevalence rates are higher in North America than elsewhere with 19% of Canadian adults and 16% of American adults engaging in FS compared to 10% of British adults and 6% of Australian adults (Pickering et al., 2016). However, these figures relate to FS rather than DFS and many FS players do not pay money to participate in the game and simply play for fun. Some research by Dr. Joris Drayer and colleagues in a 2013 issue of the European Sport Management Quarterly also suggests that those who engage in playing DFS do not typically engage in other forms of gambling. Furthermore, in a 2011 issue of Journal of Sport Management, Dr. Brendan Dwyer and Dr. Yongjae Kim reported that compared to more traditional forms of gambling, the elements of fun, excitement, competition play a bigger role than winning money in the playing of DFS games.

A study carried out by Dr. Ryan Martin and Dr. Sarah Nelson published in a 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors found that college students who were FS users (free and fee-based) were five times more likely to incur gambling problems than non-FS users, and students who played FS for money had significantly higher rates of gambling problems than those who played in free leagues. A more recent 2016 study by Loredana Marchica and Dr. Jeff Derevensky in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction examined data from national surveys of collegiate athletes and reported a steady rise in FS participation among college students between 2004 and 2012. They reported that approximately half of the male and a quarter of the female college athletes who qualified as at-risk or problem gamblers also reported wagering on FS.

There has been much debate (particularly by US legislators) as to whether playing DFS for money is classed as a legitimate form of gambling. If gambling is defined as “an agreement between two or more parties to deliberately stake something of value (typically money) with intent to profit on the outcome of an event that is determined wholly, or partially by chance” (by Pickering and colleagues), then DFS could well be a form of gambling as they argue:

“DFS can be construed as representing a form of gambling: (a) DFS includes an agreement between an individual and others, (b) money is staked on the relative performances of athletes across a certain number of sporting events with the outcome determined by both chance and skill, and (c) chance is involved given that multiple unknown factors can influence outcomes. In this regard, similarities are found in horse and sports wagering where some skill in selecting horse/sports outcomes is present, but unpredictable variables influence results (i.e., chance)…Literature from the legal field asserts that gambling must contain three elements: (a) consideration (staking something of value in order to participate), (b) chance (luck is a substantial factor in determining results), and (c) prizes (cash, merchandise, services, or points) are redeemable…While the first and third elements are clearly present in DFS, the second element, chance, is the source of current disagreement”.

The US legislation on gambling rests on whether an activity is more skill than chance determined. If DFS is predominantly a game of skill it is not deemed to be a form of gambling. The DFS operators claim that DFS games are not gambling because of the “substantial” amount of skill involved in the selection and management of FS teams. But is this any different for the professional gambler who bets on horse racing given the many factors that the person gambling has to take into account (the form of the horse, the skill of the jockey, the weather conditions, the state of the track, the number of other horses involved in the race, etc.). Similarly, poker and blackjack are both games that players can win big if they are skilful. Personally, I believe that playing DFS games for money is definitely a form of gambling, and even if it isn’t legally classed as a form of gambling, the games contain structural elements (including high event frequencies, low entry fee per game, lots of games, etc.) that can facilitate excessive use and expose vulnerable players to harm. DFS operators also allow team line-ups from a previous sporting event to populate other events which increases the speed of play, another factor that can facilitate habitual use. Furthermore, as Dr. Samantha Thomas and her colleagues argued in a recent 2015 report, the enhanced participatory role that fantasy games introduce could facilitate the illusion of control as they perform actions, making bettors overestimate the importance of skills and knowledge for the outcome of the competitions.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Drayer, J., Dwyer, B., & Shapiro, S. L. (2013). Examining the impact of league entry fees on online fantasy sport participation and league consumption. European Sport Management Quarterly, 13(3), 339-335.

Dwyer, B., & Kim, Y. (2011). For love or money: Developing and validating a motivational scale for fantasy football participation. Journal of Sport Management, 25(1), 70-83.

Marchica, L., & Derevensky, J. (2016). Fantasy sports: A growing concern among college student-athletes. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. Epub ahead of print.

Martin, R. J., & Nelson, S. (2014). Fantasy sports, real money: Exploration of the relationship between fantasy sports participation and gambling-related problems. Addictive Behaviors, 39(10), 1377-138.

Pickering, D., Blaszczynski, A., Hartmann, M., & Keen, B. (2016). Fantasy sports: Skill, gambling, or are these irrelevant issues? Current Addiction Reports, 3(3), 307-313.

Thomas, S., Bestman, A., Pitt, H., Deans, E., Randle, M., Stoneham, M., & Daube, M. (2015). The marketing of wagering on social media: An analysis of promotional content on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Tickled: The strange (but true) story of competitive endurance tickling, catfishing, and trolling

Last month, an article that I wrote on knismolagnia (in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tickling or being tickled) was featured in an online article in Vox about the documentary Tickled and the world of ‘competitive endurance tickling’ (CET). Given that endurance sports are by definition ‘extreme’ and that I have examined other extreme sports and endurance events in my previous blogs, I thought that CET would make an interesting topic to examine. Tickled was co-directed by the New Zealand journalist David Farrier and the videographer Dylan Reeve but turned out to be a far more interesting film than just about CET. It all started when Farrier came across an online advert placed by Jane O’Brien Media (JOBM):

“This is a shout out to TICKLISH MALE ATHLETIC FITNESS MODELS (aged 18-25) IN THE USA (all 50 states), CANADA, UK, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND AND JAPAN. What I’m shooting lately is unique. It’s been exploring several situations in which attractive, ticklish, and masculine guys are actually tickled in two different restrained formats, then involved in demonstrating some tickling skills themselves. Presently, I’ve been shooting all-male casts.  It is important for you to understand from the get-go that this is not a fetish, or adult-oriented content endeavour. Also, no nudity or implied nudity work is a part of anything that I ever shoot. I repeat:  recent shoots have featured all-male casts. This is a completely athletic activity with major competitive and endurance elements involved, including strategy and teamwork. I’m focused on Competitive Reality Endurance Tickling”.

It was when Farrier saw the phrase “Competitive Reality Endurance Tickling” that his journalistic instincts started to stir. The website advert said that successful applicants would be put up in a Los Angeles (US) hotel, have to wear Adidas branded clothes, and be paid US$1500 to participate. One of the CET participants Jordan Schillachi said in an online video: “This is a very competitive company…There’s probably 600 guys every 30 minutes sending pictures to want to get in”. By way of further background, the Wikipedia entry on Farrier noted that:

“In early 2014 Farrier began production of the feature-length documentary ‘Tickled’, which he co-directed with videographer Dylan Reeve. The project began when Farrier sought to do a ‘light entertainment’ piece about videos purported to depict ‘Competitive Endurance Tickling’. His inquiry to Jane O’Brien Media, the videos’ producer, was met with a hostile refusal to talk with him, prompting Farrier and Reeves to investigate further, and the film relates their efforts to find out more about the people involved in making the videos, and the person or persons behind them”.

If you type the words ‘competitive endurance tickling’ into Google, all the links that come up in the first two pages all concern the film Tickled and the various news reports and/or film reviews about it. The JOBM videos featuring CET all feature “young athletic men” who restrain and tickle each other and compete to see who can stand to be tickled the longest”. Farrier simply wanted to find out more about the so-called ‘sport’ and contacted JOBM about the ‘sport’ and the videos it produced. Farrier received a “hostile” and homophobic response from JOBM that focused on Farrier’s bisexuality and asserting that CET is a “passionately and exclusively heterosexual athletic endurance activity”. The hostility Farrier received and the legal threats he received from JOBM spurred Farrier into making the film. Arguably using bullying tactics, JOBM tried their best to stop the documentary being made. Farrier and Reeve subsequently located where JOBM operated from in Los Angeles, and turn up unannounced at their premises but are turned away at the door of the JOBM offices. The Wikipedia entry on the film noted:

“Their research uncovers information about a person known as Terri DiSisto (or ‘Terri Tickle’), a pioneer of recruiting and distributing tickling videos online, in the 1990s. They interview another tickling-video producer, whose operations are a low-key affair. They speak to a few former participants in O’Brien’s videos, who describe coercive and manipulative treatment by the producers, such as defamation campaigns against them, exposing their personal information and contacting school or work associates to discredit them, in retaliation for challenging or speaking out against the company. A local recruiter in Muskegon, Michigan describes ‘audition’ videos he’d helped make, being published without the participants’ consent. Farrier and Reeve chance upon documents which link O’Brien to David D’Amato, the former school administrator behind the ‘Terri Tickle’ alias, who served a six-month prison sentence for disabling computer systems at two different universities on multiple dates. They determine that D’Amato now lives on a substantial inheritance from his father, a successful lawyer. After considerable effort to locate him, they confront him on the street, to which he responds with additional legal threats. Before returning to New Zealand, Farrier contacts D’Amato’s step-mother for comment; she implicitly confirms his “tickling” past, and he informs her of D’Amato’s ongoing involvement in it”.

The film exposes a ‘tickling ring’ that appears to have been operation for a couple of decades. The Vox article reports that the film tells three simultaneous stories:

“The first and most basic [story] is about people who like tickling and being tickled. The second, deeper story is about catfishing – the kind of systematic, continual deception you sometimes encounter when manipulative individuals obscure their identities online. The catfisher at the center of ‘Tickled’ may be shrouded in mystery, at least until the film really gets going, but they aren’t the stereotypical lonely human on the internet. Whoever’s responsible orchestrates an elaborate plot involving lawyers, a battery of legal threats and actual lawsuits, a cadre of real minions who willingly helped carry out the ruse, and a host of nubile young men who get paid to be tickled. And that leads to [the film’s] third and most compelling story, which is a story about power. ‘Tickled’ is what happens when you put power, wealth, and privilege into the hands of an internet troll with a single-minded goal: to crush his enemies and film people being tickled. ‘Tickled’ is a procedural; the process of how Farrier and Reeve uncover their story takes up most of the documentary’s narrative…Tickled’ occasionally gets into the nitty-gritty details of confirming the catfisher’s ultimate identity – by investigating website domains, stock photos, and more – in a way that might bore some viewers. But the clues Farrier and Reeve unearth along the way are generally so weird and unique that many people will find it riveting”.

The Vox article went on to question whether CET is just a creative name for a sexual fetish (which is where my previous article on knismolagnia made an appearance). Farrier’s view was that the videos might perhaps be about JOBM producing homoerotic fetish videos that they could make money from. (JOBM strenuously denied they sold the videos for such purposes. “This is not a fetish, or adult-oriented content endeavor”). The Vox article also said:

“Tickled explores the nature of tickling fetishes and the personalities of the people who wind up monetizing them: The documentary features one film producer who quit his day job after realizing he could make thousands of dollars a month by catering to people with this very specific fetish”.

When Farrier began writing about CET in 2014, online readers responded by saying that his writings reminded them of stories about an internet troll that had been operating with a similar modus operandi a couple of decades previously. Farrier cam to the conclusion that the troll and JOBM might in fact be one and the same. As Farrier observed:

“If you Googled ‘tickling videos’ and ‘internet,’ the story came up, so we made that connection very, very quickly. The circumstantial coincidence of how they [both] operated was very obvious, but going deeper than that was harder for us. To actually prove any of it – that’s the journey of this documentary. It’s good to go in cold and just let it unfold in front of you, and then, at the end of it, you should spend a little time thinking it all through again and decide how you feel. That’s what we did experiencing the whole thing, and I think that’s good for you as an audience as well”.

So if you want to know whether Farrier’s suspicions were confirmed, you’ll have to go and watch the film – but I’ll just end by noting that JOBM have now produced their own website (‘Tickled, The Truth’) to counter Farrier’s claims.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Blackwell, S. (2016). Tickling. Prodomme. Located at: http://www.prodomme.com/fetishes/tickling

Farrier, D. (2014). Homophobia and competitive tickling. 3 News, May 7. Located at: https://web.archive.org/web/20140603201419/http://www.3news.co.nz/Homophobia-and-competitive-tickling/tabid/418/articleID/343206/Default.aspx

Him and Her Sex Blog (2012). Knismolagnia. February 12. Located at: http://himandhersexblog.tumblr.com/post/17661996177/knismolagnia

Right Diagnosis (2012). Knismolagnia. Located at: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/k/knismolagnia/intro.htm

Romano, A. (2016). New documentary ‘Tickled’ takes you into a world of sexual fetishes, catfishing, and internet secrets unearthed. Vox, June 21. Located at: http://www.vox.com/2016/6/21/11963566/tickled-competitive-tickling-documentary-explained

Wikipedia (2012). Catfishing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfishing

Wikipedia (2012). Tickled. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickled

Wikipedia (2012). Tickling game. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickling_game

Group to conquer: The social psychology of poker

In today’s blog I am going to try and apply some relatively simple social psychology to playing poker. Unlike some of my previous articles that may have bordered into ‘pop’ psychology territory, this article uses some very well researched psychological phenomena and examines to what extent they can improve your game and aid skilful poker playing.

Over in the US, Professor Matthew Martens at the University of Albany is a psychologist who has consistently applied his psychological knowledge to his love of poker. He has written very persuasively on how social psychology is used and abused in gambling situations. Like me, his own students are fascinated by the idea that academics use their passion for an academic subject and use it to aid them in non-academic situations. It is also somewhat ironic that we spend far more time analysing others’ behaviour rather than our own (probably because we don’t get paid for self-analysis!).

Like Professor Martens I have little time for Freudian psycho-babble and much prefer to believe that by understanding some fundamental psychological principles, poker players can make more rational, better decisions when playing at the tables. Professor Martens has highlighted three particular principles from traditional social psychology that he believes have high psychological relevance at the poker table. These are (i) the fundamental attribution error, (ii) group conformity, and (iii) social loafing. I shall examine each of these briefly in turn.

The fundamental attribution error (FAE) is a fairly simple concept to understand. What’s more, there is a mass of worldwide evidence showing its existence in a wide variety of behaviours, situations and contexts. In its most simple terms, the FAE boils down to the tendency for us as individuals to attribute other people’s behaviours to internal rather than external causes. The flip side of the coin is that as individuals we also have a tendency to attribute our failures to external rather than internal causes. So what does this mean in relation to poker?

Firstly, players may assume that opponents are weak or poor players when they make unfavourable decisions. At the same time, players may also believe their own poker play is simply ‘unlucky’ when things don’t go their way. In essence, the FAE makes players less objective in their thinking when evaluating both their own play and that of their opponents. The underlying message is that you shouldn’t view opponents as ‘weak’ players just because they made what looked like a few poor decisions. Similarly, as a player you must be honest about the quality of your play and try not to attribute poor playing outcomes to external events like ‘unlucky’ or ‘bad’ cards.

Another well-known phenomenon in social psychology is group conformity. In group situations (such as playing a game of poker), there is a psychological tendency to conform to the behaviour of other group members. Professor Martens gives the example of a player getting seated at a wild table where everybody is betting and raising with any two cards, and realizing four hours and 50 big bets later that the player had no idea why they chose to call three bets cold with Queen-7 suited and Ace-6 offsuit. In this situation, and to their detriment, the player has perhaps subconsciously conformed to the behaviour at the table. There is a fine line between adjusting your play to maximize the specific game situation that you face, versus adjusting your play to simply ‘fit in’ with everyone else at the table. The former will generate profit over the long run, the latter will probably ensure that you will at best break even.

This final social psychology principle that Professor Martens highlights is social loafing. However, there is one caveat – it only applies to poker tournaments. More specifically, this occurs when players are in a position that knocking out someone will result in a major benefit to all other players, such as getting in the money or making the final table. The underlying principle of social loafing is that people in group settings often sit around and wait for other people to do the work, so that they can get all the reward with little or no work. In tournament poker, this would translate to individuals choosing not to risk their chips in an effort to knock someone out, instead waiting for someone else to do the dirty work.

Professor Martens argues that by understanding these three principles of social psychology, and recognizing when they are occurring in the poker game that you are playing, players are better able to make winning decisions and evaluations about their play. It’s probably also true to say that the three particular social psychological phenomena discussed in this article are an inherent part of our day-to-day human nature. Put more simply, it is our natural human inclination to engage in these behaviours often and in a wide variety of situations (including poker playing). Therefore, it takes a little work to recognize when these phenomena are negatively affecting your game, but overcoming them should provide profitable benefits in the long run.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Biolcati, R., Passini, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). All-in and bad beat: Professional poker players and pathological gambling. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). What differentiates professional poker players from recreational poker players? A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 243-257.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Poker gambling virtual communities: The use of Computer-Mediated Communication to develop cognitive poker gambling skills. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(2), 31-44.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M., & Parke, J. (2005) Can playing poker be good for you? Poker as a transferable skill. Journal of Gambling Issues, 14.

Recher, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory qualitative study of online poker professional players. Social Psychological Review, 14(2), 13-25.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008). Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.

Clothes of play: The psychology of fancy dress

Yesterday, my local paper (The Nottingham Post) interviewed me for a Halloween story about the psychology of fancy dress (which you can read here). Before I was interviewed, I did a search of academic literature databases and couldn’t find a single academic paper that had been published on the topic. Although this didn’t surprise me, it did mean that everything I said to the journalist was opinion and speculation (at best). The first thing I did was think all the different situations in which people wear fancy dress costumes and this is what I came up with:

  • Those that wear fancy dress as part of a calendar event or festival (e.g., Halloween or the Mardi Gras)
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of an organized fancy dress event (e.g., a fancy dress party, a fancy dress competition, a murder mystery party, or a one-off occasion such as an event we had here in Nottingham [March 8, 2008] to break the world record for the most people dressed as Robin Hood (1,119 individuals dressing up breaking the previous record of 607).
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of their job (e.g., a clown, a strip-o-gram, an actor, Santa in a shop store at Christmas, etc.).
  • Those that wear fancy dress costumes as a form of disguise (such as bank robbers dressed in the masks and clothes to hide their identities).
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as a way of raising money (e.g., people in the London marathon who are sponsored while wearing ridiculous costumes).
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of an external group event such as a group all dressing identically on a hen night/stag night, or groups of people that go to football matches or Test cricket matches. This could also apply to individuals who dress up as characters from plays or musicals while watching the said stage shows (e.g., dressing up like a Rocky Horror Picture Show character (e.g., Frank N. Furter) or dressing up like Dorothy while attending a Wizard of Oz ‘sing-a-long’ show). This might also apply to groups of people like the Furry Fandom who dress up as animals and meet up socially to explore different sides of their ‘fursona’ (i.e., their animal persona).
  • Those that wear fancy dress costumes as part of sexual role-play or other sexual acts (for more detail, see my previous blogs on uniform fetishism and Nazi fetishism).
  • Those that wear fancy dress as part of a cult or ritualistic event such as devil worship (although such people may argue that they are not dressing up but merely wearing their expected ‘uniform’).
  • None of the above (e.g., people that wear fancy dress costumes as the result of losing a bet).

The reason for compiling a list like this was to get a better idea of what the psychological motivation is behind dressing in a fancy dress costume. Although most people might say that the main reason for dressing up in fancy dress is because it’s a fun and/or exciting thing to do, the list I compiled clearly shows the range of motivations is much greater than one might initially suspect. I’m not claiming that my list is exhaustive, but it shows that reasons for wearing costumes are many and varied. Reasons could be financial (to earn money, to raise money for charity), sexual (particular fancy dress outfits being arousing either to the wearer or the observer), psychological (feeling part of a united group, attention-seeking, exploring other facets of an individual’s personality), practical (concealing true identity while engaged in a criminal act), and/or idiosyncratic (trying to break a world record). For others it might be coercive (e.g., being forced to dress up as a form of sexual humiliation, or punishment for losing a bet).

One of the most well known social psychologists, Professor Michael Argyle made a passing reference to fancy dress in relation to self-identity his 1992 book The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. He noted:

“It is not only punks and skinheads who put on fancy dress; Scottish country dancers, bowls players, musicians and many others have their special costumes. Mass forms of leisure do not help to give a sense of identity, with the exception of supporting sports teams, which certainly does. It is the more engrossing and less common forms of leisure that do most for identity”.

It’s debatable whether this really refers to fancy dress but for some people, fancy dress will always be about either self-identity and/or group identity. I also came across an online article by British psychologist Dr. Catherine Tregoning that looked at what people engage in most at Halloween and what it says about them in relation to their occupation (I ought to add that the article was on a job-hunting website). At Halloween, do you watch horror films? Do you carve pumpkins? Do you go on ghost hunts? Do you like dressing up in Halloween costumes? If you do, Dr. Tregoning claimed that:

This may mean you’re the type to keep reinventing yourself and often change career! Or do you operate in different guises in your current role, changing your personality and presenting your outward self differently according to who you’re with or the task in hand? Or do you need some form of escapism from your day job? If you’re good at acting a part on Halloween – then use your skills to “act” confident in an interview or “act” calm under pressure when delivering a presentation”

Another article by Rafael Behr published in The Guardian examined the politics and psychology of fancy dress. In relation the psychology, Behr’s views had some crossover with the interview I did with my local newspaper on the topic: 

“Children love dressing up, especially in clothes that make them feel grown up. Adults like dressing up because it reminds them of that feeling of being children getting excited about dressing like a grownup. What this indicates is that actually being a grownup is generally overrated and involves spending a lot of time in disappointing clothes. Anyone who goes to a party in fancy dress will feel a pang of anxiety immediately before arrival that they have made a mistake and it is not a fancy dress party at all. If you have this feeling before arriving at a wedding or funeral, go home and change. Only senior members of the clergy are allowed to wear ridiculous clothes in churches”.

Finally, another online article that examined dressing up for Halloween was one by psychotherapist Joyce Matter who examined whether fancy dress costumes bring out a person’s alter ego (or as she termed it, an individual’s “shadow side”).

“Do we all reveal our shadow sides with our costume choices?  Do those aspects of self that we have repressed express themselves uncontrollably when we are at Spirit Halloween? Perhaps…Expressive play can be one of the most cathartic experiences as well as giving us the freedom to discover hidden aspects of self that may contain valuable resources we are repressing. A refusal or inability to do so reveals difficulty with self-acceptance and perhaps a preoccupation with the opinions of others…Through my work as a therapist, I have come to believe the shadow side is not necessarily dormant characteristics that are negative—they often contain positive aspects of self which we have not been free to embody. Once we honor and integrate them, they can become powerful strengths”.

As an adult, I have never put on fancy dress for Halloween. In fact, the only time I have dressed up in anything approaching fancy dress was when I played a French butler during a murder mystery evening with friends. As there is no scientific research on the topic I don’t know if I am typical of middle-aged men or whether I am just content with my life that I don’t feel the need to act out or experiment within the confines of costume role-play.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Argyle, M. (1992). The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. London: Routledge

Behr, R. (2014). The rules: Fancy dress. The Guardian, January 25. Located: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/25/etiquette-guide-to-fancy-dress

Lyons, C. (2014). Dressing for the part. The Stylist. Located at: http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/dressing-for-the-part

Marter, J. (2013). Your Halloween costume may reveal your shadow side. Psych Central, October 6. Located at: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/success/2013/10/your-halloween-costume-may-reveal-your-shadow-side/

Mehmi, N. (2010). How to pick your fancy dress costume to attract the opposite sex. E-Zine Articles, December 3. Located at: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-To-Pick-Your-Fancy-Dress-Costume-To-Attract-The-Opposite-Sex&id=6485736

Tregoning, C. (2013). Halloween is coming!…..What your take on it might say about your career! Jobs.ac.uk, October 6. Located at: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/psychology/2013/10/06/halloween-is-coming-what-your-take-on-it-might-say-about-your-career/

A night on the tiles: A brief look at addiction to ‘Scrabble’

In previous blogs I have covered some arguably frivolous (and alleged) addictions including addictions to cryptic crosswords and Sudoku. Today’s blog looks at an equally frivolous topic in the same vein – Scrabble addiction. I have to be honest and say that I love playing Scrabble and have been playing a lot against the computer over the last few weeks (and is one of the reasons I decided to write an article on the topic). According to a 2004 article ‘Scrabble addicts’ in The Independent by John Walsh, there are numerous celebrity Scrabble lovers including Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Nigella Lawson, Christina Aguilera, Sting, Avril Lavigne and Alison Steadman. He also  asserted that the secret of Scrabble’s success is threefold.

“First, it’s a game of skill (like chess) that depends on the luck of the tiles you get (like cards). Second, it deploys a commodity common to every human being, namely words. Third, anyone can play it”.

Back in 2000, I published a paper on the psychology of games in Psychology Review and what makes a good game. These are all applicable to Scrabble. I noted in that article that:

  • All good games are relatively easy to play but can take a lifetime to become truly adept. In short, there will always room for improvement.
  • For games of any complexity there must be a bibliography that people can reference and consult. Without books and magazines to instruct and provide information there will be no development and the activity will die.
  • There needs to be competitions and tournaments. Without somewhere to play (and likeminded people to play with) there will be little development within the field over long periods of time.
  • Finally – and very much a sign of the times – no leisure activity can succeed today without corporate sponsorship of some kind.

But is there any evidence to suggest Scrabble can be addictive? Jan Kern published a book in 2009 called Eyes on Line: Eyes on Life – A Journey Out of Online Addictions. She noted the case of Tom who started out his story by saying: “Hi, my name is Tom, and I’m an addict. I don’t have a problem with the bottle or with any kind of pharmaceutical product, legal or illegal. No, my problem is with games. I’m addicted to them…And now the Internet has made this potential to get hooked all too easy. My particular poison these days is online Scrabble”. I then came across these examples:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have struggled with Scrabble addiction. When I play Scrabble on the Internet, I lose all track of time. I promise myself I’ll just play one game, and the next thing I know, the sun is coming up and my eyes are a shade of crimson. I’m just glad to know that I’m not the only one” (Raphael Pope-Sussman, New York Times, 2007).
  • Extract 2: “I read ‘Addicted to L-U-V’ while I was in the midst of a Scrabble game…Whenever I encounter a new word, I calculate the number of letters, roots, prefixes and suffixes. I’ve got it bad. My Scrabble buddies both live out of state…When we are together, we have cut-throat marathon games…When we’re apart, we practice our addiction online” (Cheryl Beatty, New York Times, 2007).
  • Extract 3: “Phew! I am not the only one! Scrabble with my friends and daughter was my addiction for years. These days I play it on my computer when I take a break from work…O.K., that’s enough writing; time to get back to another game of Scrabble” (Beth Rosen, New York Times, 2007).

These extracts were all published in response to American journalist and film director Nora Ephron’s 2007 article ‘Addicted to L-U-V’ in the New York Times about her addiction to the word game Scrabble. In her article, Ephron admitted that:

“I stumbled onto something called Scrabble Blitz. It was a four-minute version of Scrabble solitaire, on a Web site called Games.com, and I began playing it without a clue that within 24 hours – I am not exaggerating – it would fry my brain…I began having Scrabble dreams in which people turned into letter tiles that danced madly about. I tuned out on conversations and instead thought about how many letters there were in the name of the person I wasn’t listening to. I fell asleep memorizing the two- and three-letter words that distinguish those of us who are hooked on Scrabble from those of you who aren’t…My brain turned to cheese. I could feel it happening. It was clear that I was becoming more and more scattered, more distracted, more unfocused…I instantly became an expert on how the Internet could alter your brain in a permanent way”.

Ephron went on to report comments from other people in the online Scrabble games (“I’m an addict, lol”, “I can’t stop playing this, ha ha”). Ephron concluded she was no different from the other players. She then went onto say:

“The game of Scrabble Blitz eventually became too much for the Web site. Lag was a huge problem. From time to time, the Scrabble Blitz area would shut down for days, and when it returned, so did all the addicts, full of comments about how they had barely withstood life without the game. I began to get carpal tunnel syndrome from playing. I’m not kidding. I realized I was going to have to kick the habit…I was saved by what’s known in the insurance business as an act of God: Games.com shut down Scrabble Blitz. And that was that. It was gone”.

Obviously I’m sceptical about whether there are genuine cases of addiction to Scrabble (particularly as there is nothing in the psychological literature whatsoever). There have also been other lengthy first-person journalistic accounts of Scrabble addiction such as the 2011 article by James Brown in the Sabotage Times (who also did some interesting background research for his article). According to Brown, the recent upsurge in Scrabble began in 2007 when Indian brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla developed a Scrabble application for Facebook (‘Scrabulous’). It quickly became the most popular game on Facebook (but was then removed due to a legal dispute with the original developers of Scrabble – Hasbro and Mattel. The game later returned as Lexulous). Brown then confessed:

Hello, my name’s James and I am a Scrabble addict. I have been playing it all day everyday from last Christmas until my summer holiday when two weeks without a computer allowed me to crack the habit. I am not alone, there are over a hundred thousand Scrabble players on Facebook. We play each other at any time of day or night because we are situated all over the world and timezones are helpful like that. We decide how long we will allow for each move to take, how many people can play, and what standard we play at…On an hourly basis day after day I played people in Australia, Britain, South Africa, India, the West Indies and pretty much anywhere else where the Scrabble application could work. Eventually I spent more time talking and playing with these new Scrabble partners than I did the people I lived with. It was madness. A genuine obsession, I would go as far as to say addiction. I was late to pick my son up from school, late to sports matches I was playing in, I ignored writing work I had to do, I took the computer to bed with me and played last thing at night until my eyes hurt and then started again as soon as I woke up… For me it eventually became too much. One day I looked at the 18 consecutive games I had going on at once, many of them with just two minutes at a time to play my word, and realised what that would look like if I actually had 18 people with 18 boards in the room with me. This moment of clarity gave me some perspective on how it had consumed my life”.

I have to admit that this case account is quite compelling and does at least suggest Scrabble could be potentially addictive. Finally, as a Professor of Gambling Studies I was also interested in Brown’s analogy between Scrabble and gambling as he noted:

“Not knowing what letters would appear next had that random appeal that watching a horse race has.  The excitement at using all seven letters and scoring a bingo, or taking a game to the very last tile to reach a conclusion was immense, there was always just one more game, one more opponent, maybe the same one you’d already played five times that day and you wanted to take another victory from or avenge an earlier defeat. The international 24 hour pull of the game is relentless, for some it over-comes loneliness for others it fuels addictive personalities”.

Playing with what you get given is almost an outlook on life itself. However, unlike life, I seriously doubt whether excessive and/or addictive playing of Scrabble will ever become the topic of scientific study.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Brown, J. (2011). Scrabble addict. Sabotage Times, May 16. Located at: http://sabotagetimes.com/life/scrabble-addict/

Ephron, N. (2007). Addicted to L-U-V. New York Times, May 13. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/opinion/13ephron.html

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). The psychology of games. Psychology Review, 7(2), 24-26.

Hayward, A. (2014). Can New Words With Friends reignite your competitive pseudo-Scrabble addiction? MacWorld, October 14. Located at: http://www.macworld.com/article/2825932/can-new-words-with-friends-reignite-your-competitive-pseudo-scrabble-addiction.html

Kern, J. (2009). Eyes on Line: Eyes on Life – A Journey Out of Online Addictions. Accessible Publishing Systems PTY, Ltd.

Walsh, J. (2004). Scrabble addicts. The Independent, October 9. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/scrabble-addicts-535160.html

Arcade fire: A brief look at pinball addiction

“I guess what started my pinball addiction was how it has become the perfect distraction. I like to drink beer. And go out. And recreate. Pinball is often found in bars here in the San Francisco Bay Area, so grabbing a beer and dropping a few quarters and playing a game with a friend is a great way to kick it. That’s kind of how it started, as something I might do here and there, but it’s grown into a full blown addiction as I’ve discovered more about pinball. It’s a hobby, a sport, and a pastime, but for me, it’s all consuming” (Gene X, December 18, 2013).

PinballJunky.com is a periodic hobby-blog operated by one guy with over 20 years of unbridled collector’s obsession over anything having to do with the Art, Science, History and Culture of Pinball. Armed with an arsenal of over 30 Pins, our Moderator has built, rebuilt, repaired, restored, demolished and labored with an OCD level of passion over 100’s of pinball machines from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s era. While he has experimented with various EM pins over the years, The Junky is particularly passionate about the SS games of the 90s and present” (from the Pinball Junky website).

As far as I am aware, only one academic paper has ever been published on pinball addiction, and that was a case study that I published in 1992 issue of Psychological Reports. My paper featured the case of a young man (aged 25 years) that I interviewed as part of another study on slot machine gambling (that I published in a 1994 issue of the British Journal of Psychology about the role of cognitive bias and skill in slot machine gambling). During the post-experimental interview, I asked all my participants to complete a questionnaire that included the (1987 revised third edition) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for pathological gambling. None of the nine items was endorsed but after completing my questionnaire, my participant spontaneously added that if he’d been asked the same questions about his pinball playing and videogame playing he would have answered ‘yes’ to a majority of the questions. On the spur of the moment I changed the word ‘gamble’ in the DSM-III-R criteria to the word ‘play’ and asked him to take that part of the survey again. In short, I asked him if he endorsed any of the following

  • Frequent preoccupation with playing or obtaining money to play
  • Often plays with larger amounts of money or over a longer period than intended
  • Need to play more to achieve the desired excitement
  • Restlessness or irritability if unable to play
  • Repeatedly returns to win back losses
  • Repeated efforts to cut down or stop playing
  • Often plays when expected to fulfill social, educational or occupational obligations.
  • Has given up some important social, occupational or recreational activity in order to play
  • Continues to play despite inability to pay mounting debts, or despite other significant social, occupational, or legal problems that the individual knows to be exacerbated by playing

If a person answers ‘yes’ to four of the above questions, the person was deemed to be an amusement machine ‘addict’. This time, my participant answered ‘yes’ to six out the nine questions, that I interpreted as showing signs of pinball pathology. It was at this point he was interviewed further.

The participant began playing pinball machines (and arcade videogame machines) at school when he was around 14 or 15 years of age. This he did with many of his male peers at the start of the ‘videogame explosion’ (as he put it) in around 1979 to 1980. He became “very good” at pinball playing and felt particularly good when lots of people, both male and female, were watching him and he was playing well. This implied he played mainly for social reasons. However, he also enjoyed playing on his own and, at the time of my study, he predominantly played alone. While playing, he reported that he experienced a ‘high’ – a continuous high (as opposed to an immediate high or ‘rush’ reported by some addicted slot machine gamblers (that I had reported throughout my published studies on adolescent slot machine players in 1990 and 1991) which was especially notable when he “started off with a good ball”, got free replay”, or experienced something intrinsically motivating to him (e.g., someone watching him play).

Back in 1983, Dr. Sidney Kaplan and Dr. Shirley Kaplan reported in the Journal of Popular Culture, that male pinball players may be attracted by the machine’s sexual graphics. However, my participant reported that he was more attracted by the features within the game and liked the idea that he could master a game, something that attracted him to videogames as well. He went on to say that both pinball machines and videogame machines were very similar because they both (i) score through points, (ii) have no financial reward – unlike a fruit machine, (iii) give the players pleasure from gaining a high score, i.e., an intrinsic reward, (iv) have the chance to gain free replays, and (v) require skill to play well. The reasons he didn’t play slot machines were because (i) its financial rewards were too infrequent, (ii) they are mostly chance-oriented, (iii) there are no points to score, and (iv) there is no free replay feature (except of course if the player won and decided to play again).

At the time I published the paper, it had been argued at various gambling conferences that I attended that “videogames are not as bad as slot machines because the better the player gets, the less money the player spends”. At face value this was correct as some adolescents could make 10 pence last over an hour on a videogame. However, the participant explained to me that he (and others) used to spend “hundreds of pounds” learning to play videogames and pinball machines, and then, when they were proficient at them, they would get bored with the game and spend their money learning how to play a new game on another machine. For this participant, pinball machines were different from videogame playing. Although he had played many different pinball machines, he had a personal favourite which he always returned to because it was the one on which he had his first “major success” (i.e., a very high score).

Back in 1992 I argued that it would be beneficial to adapt the criteria for pathological gambling for use in the monitoring of gaming machine addictions. By using such checklists (which can be administered quickly and easily), I argued it would be possible to record objective measures of incidence of probable amusement-machine addicts (including pinball addiction) and possibly show whether these types of addictions are implicated or act as precursors to more established addictions (e.g., pathological gambling). In 2013, criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder were included in Section 3 of the latest DSM-5 (using many of the criteria outlined above). However, given the complete lack of any other academic paper on pinball addiction, it doesn’t look as though pinball addiction will be appearing in any psychiatric diagnostic manual anytime soon. However, this case and other papers that I wrote on slot machine and video game addiction at the time led to my 1995 paper on technological addictions (that has now become one of my most highly cited papers).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

American Psychiatric Association (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd Edition -Revised). Washington D.C. : Author

Griffiths, M.D. (1990). Addiction to fruit machines: A preliminary study among males. Journal of Gambling Studies, 6, 113-126.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). Fruit machine addiction: Two brief case studies. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 465.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). Amusement machine playing in childhood and adolescence: A comparative analysis of video games and fruit machines. Journal of Adolescence, 14, 53-73.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The psychobiology of the near miss in fruit machine gambling. Journal of Psychology, 125, 347-357.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The observational study of adolescent gambling in UK amusement arcades. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 309-320.

Griffiths, M.D. (1992). Pinball wizard: A case study of a pinball addict. Psychological Reports, 71, 160-162.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Tolerance in gambling: An objective measure using the psychophysiological analysis of male fruit machine gamblers. Addictive Behaviors, 18, 365-372.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine addiction in adolescence: A case study. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 387-399.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Kaplan, S. J. (1983). The image of amusement arcades and differences in male and female video game playing. Journal of Popular Culture, 17(1), 93-98.

Kaplan, S., & Kaplan, S. (1981). A research note: Video games, sex, and sex differences. Social Science, 208-212

Kaplan, S., & Kaplan, S. (1983). Video games, sex and sex differences. The Journal of Popular Culture, 17(2), 61-66.

Play to win: A brief look at competitive video gaming

To date, competitive gaming has not been widely researched or recognized in the scientific and professional literature on video games. As the name suggests, competitive gaming comprises players who regularly compete in tournaments organized and run by the gaming community, often for large monetary gains. Secondary benefits include the recognition and admiration of other gaming community members. Such tournaments are now often run by companies that host the events at large convention centers in major cities (e.g., New York City, Los Angeles, Seoul, etc.).

Despite three decades of worldwide growth in competitive gaming, little empirical investigation has catalogued these activities. Although empirical studies are lacking, studies have noted that competitive games now use Internet radio coverage with play-by-play commentaries, large-screen televised projections of game footage, sizeable live audiences, and cash prizes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For elite competitive gamers (i.e., professional gamers), the activity is a full-time job. Many games played competitively appear to demand high levels of sophistication in strategizing, planning, multi-tasking, and timing to master.

Academic studies have shown that certain competitive games, if used properly, can also promote prosocial behaviour and skill development. Furthermore, professional success in competitive gaming seemingly requires persistent practice and sophisticated skill sets. It is likely that these positive effects are more substantial than the effects of games played on a casual level. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of gaming more generally in lieu of the positive effects of competitive gaming, particularly in relation to improved spatial cognitive benefits. Studies have also suggested that video games can provide an enriched medium for strategic problem solving. Other studies support the differences between novice and advanced levels of play in video games. For instance, research has demonstrated measurable differences between novice and expert game players, the latter group often demonstrating enhanced short-term memory, executive control/self-monitoring, pattern recognition, visual-spatial abilities (e.g., object rotation), and task-switching efficiency, along with more efficient problem-solving skills.      

Competitive gaming has the potential to change the dynamics and motivations of gaming. For instance, if a player can make a financial living and career from playing a video game, it becomes an occupation rather than a hobby. This raises interesting questions about the role of context in excessive gaming and potential addiction. Although there is ongoing scientific debate on the nature and extent of adverse consequences associated with excessive digital technology use, I have noted (in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction) that long hours of video game use alone do not indicate video game addiction (i.e., heavy use on its own is not a sufficient criterion for addiction). Therefore, in order to evaluate problematic video game use, researchers must consider possible negative consequences players are experiencing in their lives. When video game players are capable of financially supporting themselves from their play, this matter becomes more complex. For example, how would one categorize a professional video game player who was making over $100,000 per year playing video games, but was also experiencing social difficulties as a result of excessive video game use? This point is not meant to imply that a successful professional gamer is incapable of suffering pathological effects from game use, but rather to raise the distinct possibility that professional gamers will view their use as non-problematic due to the success they experience.

When it comes to competitive gaming, many players will play excessively and spend hours and hours every single day either practicing or competing. For many competitive gamers, their whole life is dominated by the activity and may impact on their relationships and family life. However, this does not necessarily mean they are addicted to playing the games because the excessive game playing is clearly a by-product of the activity being their job. However, it could perhaps be argued that they are addicted to their work (and in this case, their work comprises video game playing).

Workaholics have been conceptualized in different ways. For instance, in a 2011 review I published in The Psychologist, I noted that workaholics are typically viewed as one (or a combination) of the following. They are (i) viewed as hyper-performers, (ii) work as a way of stopping themselves thinking about their emotional and personal lives, and (iii) are over concerned with their work and neglect other areas of their lives. Some of these may indeed be applied to competitive gamers (particularly the reference to ‘hyper-performers’ and the fact that other areas of their lives may be neglected in pursuit of their ultimate goal). Some authors note that there is a behavioural component and a psychological component to workaholism. The behavioural component comprises working excessively hard (i.e., a high number of hours per day and/or week), whereas the psychological (dispositional) component comprises being obsessed with work (i.e., working compulsively and being unable to detach from work). Again, these behavioural and psychological components could potentially be applied to competitive gamers.

I have also noted that there are those who differentiate between positive and negative forms of workaholism. For instance, some (like myself) view workaholism as both a negative and complex process that eventually affects the person’s ability to function properly. In contrast, others highlight the workaholics who are totally achievement oriented and have perfectionist and compulsive-dependent traits. Here, the competitive gamer might be viewed as a more positive form of workaholism. Research appears to indicate there are a number of central characteristics of workaholics. In short, they typically: (i) spend a great deal of time in work activities, (ii) are preoccupied with work even when they are not working, (iii) work beyond what is reasonably expected from them to meet their job requirements, and (iv) spend more time working because of an inner compulsion, rather than because of any external factors. Again, some or all of these characteristics could be applied to competitive gamers.

Furthermore, competitive gaming is not the sole means by which proficient gamers can financially support themselves. Researchers (such as Dr. Edward Castranova) studying the economics of synthetic worlds (e.g., digital gaming environments) have observed that gamers also procure income by marketing virtual objects in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). These digital objects often include avatars, or characters controlled by players that interact with gaming environments and other players. Each avatar has unique physical attributes and skills that a player may select, purchase, and/or develop over many hours of game play (e.g., the gradual enhancement strength, speed, weapon-wielding abilities, etc.).

As noted above, competitive gamers are likely to play for extended periods of time and sacrifice other areas of their lives if they have the potential to make a living from gaming. This single-minded dedication may become a problem for some players because the goal of becoming a professional gamer is often unrealistic. There are currently no precise figures relating to the number of competitive game players, but anecdotal evidence suggests that few professional gamers generate sufficient income to support themselves financially. Although viability may change in the future, at present, the great majority of competitive gamers have little chance of becoming successful and financially independent professionals. For this reason (i.e., the motivation to become a professional), competitive gamers may be more susceptible to excessive use than the average video game player. Additionally, even successful professional gamers are likely to play for extended periods of time, as playing less than eight hours each day could mean that they are not practicing enough compared to other professional players. Those who work with (and treat) problematic video game players should keep this factor in mind (especially given that excessive video game use may increase as competitive gaming receives more bona fide recognition as a possible career choice). 

Competitive gaming, as with video game playing more generally, has psychosocial advantages and disadvantages and is thus an important area to consider when evaluating gaming as a whole. It may be critical to include questions about competitive gaming (and context more generally) in measures evaluating the degree, extent, and “addictive” potential of video game use. Furthermore, it would appear essential for psychologists to inquire about competitive gaming in a clinical interview during which a client reports playing video games. If clients turn out to be competitive gamers, this will likely distinguish them in many ways from a person who simply plays video games excessively for fun and/or escape.

Various approaches and strategies could be used to stimulate research into competitive gaming. For example, studies could compare the abilities of professional or high-level competitive gamers with everyday or far less experienced gamers to better understand (a) similarities and contrasts in capacities, and (b) whether skills transfer to other domains. Another possibility is to utilize case studies of highly successful professional gamers. Such in-depth studies can generate descriptive information that can help in formulating hypotheses about potential differences between these individuals and non-competitive gamers and lead to better informed and more rigorous empirical investigations. How and why are some competitive gamers able to succeed while so many other players try and fail? Are some of these characteristics and skills (e.g., persistence and speed of mental processing) similar to those seen in professional athletes or others who are extremely successful in their occupations?

Competitive gaming may offer numerous benefits that could be more pronounced than the positive effects found when games are played casually. It may also be problematic, as competitive gamers might be more likely to sacrifice other areas of their lives if they believe they can become professional players. Most importantly, those researchers in the gaming studies field might keep in mind that competitive and professional gamers are a distinct population and may differ considerably (both psychologically and/or behaviorally) from casual gamers.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input: Kyle Faust and Joseph Meyer

Further reading

Andrews, G., & Murphy, K. (2006). Does video game playing improve executive functioning? In M. A. Vanchevsky (Ed.), Frontiers in: Cognitive psychology (pp. 145–161). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabiani, M., & Gratton, G. (2008). The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control. Acta Psychologica, 129, 387–398.

Castronova, E. (2005). Synthetic worlds: The business and culture of online games. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Castronova, E., Williams, D., Shen, C., Ratan, R., Xiong, L., Huang, Y., & Keegan, B. (2009). As real as real? Macroeconomic behavior in a large-scale virtual world. New Media and Society, 11, 685–707.

Cheshire, T. (2011, July 4). Career gamers: Inside the world of modern professional gaming. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/07/features/career-gamers?page=all

Faust, K., Meyer, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Competitive gaming: The potential benefits of scientific study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 67-76.

Goodale, G. (2003, August 8). Are video games a sport? They may not break a sweat, but these competitors say they are tomorrow’s athletes. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0808/p13s01-alsp.html

Griffiths, M. D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119–125.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Hong, J-C, & Liu, M-C. (2003). A study on thinking strategy between experts and novices of computer games. Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 245–258.

Hutchins, B. (2008). Signs of meta-change in second modernity: The growth of e-sport and the World Cyber Games. New Media Society, 10, 851–869.

King, D., Delfabbro, P., & Griffiths, M. (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice. International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, 7, 555-562.

Lee, Y-H, & Lin, H. (2011). ‘Gaming is my work’: Identity work in internet-hobbyist game workers. Work Employment Society, 25, 451–467.

Reeves, S., Brown, B., & Laurier, E. (2009). Experts at play: Understanding skilled expertise. Games and Culture, 4, 205–227.

Thriller killer: A brief look at BASE jumping

According to (the perhaps appropriately named Dr. Matt Pain and his colleague Matthew Pain in a 2005 issue of The Lancet), extreme sports are continuing to grow in popularity. I recounted my own experiences of bungee jumping in a previous blog but even that is tame compared to BASE jumping. A fairly recent 2012 paper by Erik Monasterio, Roger Mulder, Christopher Frampton and Omer Mei-Dan examined the personality characteristics of BASE Jumpers in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (and on which my blog today is based).

According to Monasterio and colleagues, BASE jumping developed from skydiving (using specially adapted parachutes to jump from fixed objects). The acronym ‘B.A.S.E.’ was coined in the late 1970s by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith, and Phil Mayfield, and comprises the fixed objects that such individuals can jump off (i.e., Building, Antenna, Span [arch, bridge, or dome], and Earth (a natural formation such as a cliff). According to the Zero P website, there are only about 1,000-1,500 active BASE jumpers and less than 10,000 people have ever even made a BASE jump.  Currently there are just over 1,000 people worldwide that have a BASE number. According to the Wikipedia entry, death rates from BASE jumping are high:

“BASE jumping as of 2006 has an overall fatality rate estimated at about one fatality per sixty participants. A study of 20,850 BASE jumps from the same site (the Kjerag Massif in Norway) reported 9 fatalities over the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, or 1 in every 2,317 jumps. However, at that site, 1 in every 254 jumps over that period resulted in a nonfatal accident. BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world, with a fatality and injury rate 43 times higher than parachuting from a plane. As of 29 March 2014 the ‘BASE Fatality List’ maintained by ‘Blincmagazine.com’ records 228 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981”.

Erk Monasterio and Omer Mei-Dan published a previous paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal and noted that BASE jumping was associated with a five- to 16-fold risk for death or injury when compared with skydiving. Monasterio and colleagues also reported that 72% of experienced BASE jumpers “had witnessed the death or serious injury of other participants in the sport in which 76% had at least one-near miss incident and only 6% had not sustained an injury, near-miss or witnessed a fatality from BASE jumping”. Consequently they argued that it was unsurprising widespread belief that “BASE jumpers are in some way unusual”.

Given how dangerous the sport is, Monasterio and his colleagues carried out the first ever research study into the personalities of BASE jumpers, and whether such personality factors play any contributing role in why BASE jumpers do what they do. Previous research into personality and extreme sports was summarized. Below is Monasterio et al’s summary with all but two of the academic papers cited removed:

“A number of studies have investigated the relationship between personality traits and participation in high-risk physical sports; sensation-seeking is by far the most consistently studied personality factor in the literature. Most of these studies have found that participants in high-risk sports tend to score higher on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking (SS) Scale compared to low risk sports participants and control groups. Zuckerman (1983) defines sensation seeking as ‘the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience’. In addition, a smaller number of studies have also considered other personality variables such as neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness. Castanier et al. (2010) investigated 302 men involved in high-risk sports (downhill skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, paragliding, and skydiving) and found that personality types with a configuration of low conscientiousness combined with high extraversion and/or high neuroticism were greater risk-takers”.

What the majority of research studies examining relationships between extreme risk-taking sports and personality have done is investigate the role of sensation seeking. In Monasterio and colleagues’ view, the research carried out to date is “far too narrow as it only provides information about one aspect of personality and ignores other important personality factors that may contribute to participation in risk-taking sports and help to understand the motivation for sports risk-taking behavior in general”. Therefore, the aim of their study was to explore the possible psychobiological contribution to BASE jumping using the temperament and character inventory (TCI) developed by Dr. Robert Cloninger and colleagues in 1994.

For those of you that don’t know, the TCI is a self-report personality questionnaire that assesses both normal and abnormal variation in temperament and character. Monasterio and colleagues assessed their sample of BASE jumpers using the TCI-235 (a self-report questionnaire with 235 items assessing seven basic dimensions of temperament and character). The following text about the seven dimensions and definitions of temperament and character are taken verbatim from the paper:

“Temperament refers to the automatic emotional responses that are thought to be moderately heritable, independent, genetically homogenous and stable over time. There are four temperament dimensions:

  • Novelty seeking (a tendency to activate or initiate new behaviors with a propensity to seek out new or novel experiences, impulsive decision-making, extravagance, quick loss of temper, and active avoidance of frustration).
  • Harm avoidance (a tendency to inhibit behaviors with a propensity to worry in anticipation of future problems, fear of uncertainty, rapid fatigability, and shyness in the company of strangers).
  • Reward dependence (a tendency to maintain behaviors manifested by dependency on the approval of others, social attachments, and sentimentality).
  • Persistence (a tendency to be hard-working, industrious, and persistent despite frustration and fatigue

Character refers to self-concepts and individual differences in goals and values that can be influenced by social factors, learning, and the process of maturation. The character dimensions are as follows:

  • Self-directedness (which refers to self-determination, personal integrity, self-integrity, and willpower).
  • Cooperativeness (which refers to individual differences in identification with and acceptance of other people).
  • Self-transcendence (which refers to feelings of religious faith, or viewing oneself as an integral part of the universe in other ways.”

Monasterio and colleagues hypothesized that BASE jumpers would score high on Novelty Seeking and score low on Harm Avoidance (compared to control data). To be included in the study sample, BASE jumpers had to have made at least ten BASE jumps, and been BASE jumping for over six months. The sample participants were recruited from international BASE jump group meetings, adventure website forums, and from personal communication among the international BASE jumping community. The final sample comprised 68 BASE jumpers (59 male; 39 single; mean age 34 years; 28 having sustained a significant injury from BASE jumping).

The results obtained were “partially in line” with the authors’ hypotheses. BASE jumpers did indeed have higher Novelty Seeking scores and lower Harm Avoidance scores. They also scored high on the Self Directedness dimension. However, the mean differences compared to normative data were “modest” and their findings suggested there was no “tightly defined personality profile” among their sample of BASE jumpers. The exception was that a 40% of the BASE jumpers had an extremely low Harm Avoidance score (compared to 5% of the control group). The authors concluded that the eight-fold increase in BASE jumpers suggests that: 

“A large proportion have a temperament profile characterized by low [Harm Avoidance]. The finding of low [Harm Avoidance] is not surprising or counterintuitive, as individuals with low scores on this dimension are described as carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident. Their energy levels tend to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous. The advantages of low [Harm Avoidance] are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty, leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to foolhardy optimism…In order to participate in extreme sports such as BASE jumping, participants require highly developed skills that can only be acquired by repeated and consistent practice over time, and after undergoing a fairly rigorous apprenticeship. As [Self Directedness] refers to self-determination and maturity, or the ability of an individual to control, regulate and adapt behavior to fit the situation in accord with individually chosen goals and values, it is unsurprising that BASE jumpers scored high on this measure. High [Self Directedness] with an emphasis on discipline and skill acquisition may also help to explain why BASE jumpers engage in risk taking behaviors by normative rather than impulsive/disorganized antisocial means (such as drug use and criminal behavior). Previous research has shown that a combination of high [Novelty Seeking] and low [Harm Avoidance] increases the risk of drug use”.

Despite the interesting findings, there were lots of methodological limitations in the study. The sample was very small (although the authors argued that it was relatively large given the small number of worldwide BASE jumpers – in fact they claimed it included 5-10% of all the world’s BASE jumpers), self-selected (i.e., not random), and relied on self-report (which is not always the most reliable testimony). The authors also pointed out that:

“All participants who volunteered were included. This may have led to selection bias and the sample may represent a population of particularly high-risk-taking BASE jumpers as 42% had suffered serious injury and 72% had witnessed fatality or serious accident, yet persisted in the sport. BASE jumpers who had experienced prior accidents may have been more motivated to share their experience and therefore more likely to participate in the study. As the study included only active jumpers, cautious BASE jumpers, who had given up the sport following an injury or a near-miss experience, may have been excluded. Alternatively, the sampling process may have excluded particularly high-risk groups as less experienced, more impulsive and higher risk taking jumpers may have been involved in fatal accidents at earlier stages of their BASE jumping careers and therefore were unavailable for inclusion in the study…An added limitation may be the forced-choice nature of the TCI questionnaire in which participants score either true or false for each question, whereas the answer may lie somewhere in the middle”.

Despite the limitations, the study is the first of its kind and provides a benchmark on which other studies can build. Engagement in extreme sports is likely to continue despite the high risk of injury or death. Knowing as much as we can about why people engage in such risky behaviour is clearly of great value psychologically.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Castanier, C., Le Scanff, C., & Woodman, T. (2010). Who takes risks in high-risk sports? A typological personality approach. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 478–484.

Cloninger, C. R., Przybeck, T. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Wetzel, R. D. (1994a). Basic description of the personality scales. In C. R. Cloninger (Ed.), The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI): A guide to its development and use (pp. 19–27). St Louis, MO: Center for Psychobiology of Personality, Washington University.

Monasterio, E., & Mei-Dan, O. (2008). Risk and severity of injury in a population of BASE jumpers. New Zealand Medical Journal, 121, 70–75.

Monasterio, E., Mulder, R., Frampton, C., & Mei-Dan, O. (2012). Personality characteristics of BASE jumpers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24, 391-400

Pain, M.T., & Pain, M.A. (2005). Essay: Risk taking in sport. Lancet, 366, Suppl 1, S33–34.

Zuckerman, M. (1983). Sensation seeking and sports. Personality and Individual Differences, 4, 285–294.

Zuckerman, M., & Cloninger, C. R. (1996). Relationship between Cloninger’s, Zuckerman’s and Eysenck’s dimensions of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 283–285.

Bet, bet, bet: How to gamble responsibly during the football World Cup

With the football World Cup kicking off later today, I thought I would use my blog to give my readers some advice on gambling responsibly over the next month. As much as I want England to win, the humid conditions will be a major disadvantage. Yesterday I published an article on why I think Brazil will win (which you can read here). Given my academic background it may come as little surprise that when I gamble, I expect to lose in the long run. However, that is not to say that I don’t have my ‘Top 10 Golden Rules’ that I apply in gambling situations. Some might say my rules are about the psychology of winning but I would prefer to describe them as the psychology of minimizing losses! In some situations, there is a very fine line between psychology and common sense and this is one of those occasions. So here goes.

(1) Never gamble without some kind of pre-set plan and amount that you are prepared and/or can afford to lose. Winning gamblers set themselves win/loss goals before they enter a betting shop or use an online betting exchange. Planning and goals are the catalyst to life success and gambling on the World Cup should be no different. Don’t use any winnings as a reason to place even more bets and never – under no circumstances – chase your losses.

(2) Don’t let the excitement – or the lack of it – of a football match detract from the pre-set plan you started with. If you are watching a World Cup game and your only wager is on who will win or lose, then don’t get carried away with the excitement of the game. When the game itself is dull, don’t get side tracked by gambling on spontaneous ‘in-play’ side bets during the game to increase the excitement. If you do like a little in-play action, give yourself the option of (say) five in-play bets (or whatever you can afford to lose) and stick to it no matter what.

(3) Remember that the excitement of gambling itself can lead to irrational thought processes. Psychological research has consistently shown that when gamblers are in the thick of their gambling ‘action’, they tend to be more irrational in how they think and make decisions. Irrationality leads to poor decision-making and pre-set plans and budgets often go out of the window. Just like alcohol, gambling can make the betting punter do things that they would never have done in the cold light of day.

(4) Do your research when using promotions. As a general rule, betting promotions are the highest money earners for the gambling establishment’s marketing department. They are designed to get you to gamble or to get you gambling in the first place or on something new. Avoid gambling with offers that seem too good to be true (because they usually are). Stick with your pre-set plan and budget and you’ll be fine. If through your research you find a good promotion that suits your betting needs, then by all means use it. Just don’t use promotions impulsively or use the first promotion that you see.

(5) Learn to think for yourself. General advice (like that contained in this article) is one thing. Winners learn to sort things out for themselves and not rely on others. They are comfortable with how they approach their betting. You should also disregard rumours. Gambling can often invoke certain urban myths, such as “your first bet after opening an Internet gambling account is always a winning one’.” Banking on such speculation while betting is a recipe for disaster.

(6) Do your own ‘research’. As with any other product that involves the exchange of money, making bets on World Cup football requires that you do the research to establish the best deals around. This is especially useful on Internet gambling sites and betting exchanges via mobile phones and tablets but can be applied to offline gambling too. Only factual information should inform your decision-making when betting.

(7) Gamble with your head and not with your heart. When it comes to gambling on the football team I support (in my case, England) I try to employ strategies that leave me feeling good whatever the outcome. That is why (from a psychological perspective) I tend to bet against England. I ask myself how much I would you be prepared to pay to see England progress in the tournament? If England get to the World Cup Final I would be more than happy to pay £100 to see them do it therefore I would happily put £100 on England’s opponents to win. My logic has always been that I win either way. If England win the game, I will be on an ecstatic high. I wouldn’t care about losing £100. If England lose the game, as at least I would have the winnings to soften the blow!

I can’t promise that these tips will help anyone win lots of money, but they will certainly help you minimize any losses!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overviewResponsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of gambling: The best laid plans. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, January (Issue 22), p. 72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty.Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012).Self-exclusion services for online gamblers: Are they about responsible gambling or problem gambling?World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(6), 9-10.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Smeaton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet gambling and social responsibility: An exploratory study, CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 49-57.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

Sticking points: A brief look at ‘the Panini sticker craze’ and its relationship with gamification

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written a few blogs on the psychology of collecting as an addiction in addition to specific types of obsessive collecting such as record collecting. Over the last two weeks I have twice been asked to appear on radio shows talking about the ‘Panini sticker collecting craze’ that is allegedly sweeping across the UK in the run up to the start of the World Cup. My son is avidly collecting Panini stickers and yesterday I showed him my own Panini sticker books that I have kept since filling them in during the 1978 to 1980 period.

Like my youngest son now, I remember spending every last penny of my 10-pence a week pocket money buying packet after packet of stickers trying to complete my collection. One of the reasons I may have been asked to appear on radio shows was that there was an article in last week’s issue of The Guardian newspaper about the adults who are getting “misty-eyed” about Panini stickers. Ian Shoesmith, 38-year-old author of The Guardian piece and father of a four-year old son, claimed he was collecting the latest stickers:

I rip the packets of stickers open with all the excitement and anticipation of the 10-year-old boy that I used to be, and inhale their long-forgotten but oh-so-familiar odour of glue mixed with sticky tape and paper…But my childhood passion – the thrill of racing to the paper shop, handing over all of my pocket money, desperate to be greeted by the mulleted head of a Soviet-bloc defender – is dismissed, out-of-hand, by my son. But I will persist in collecting them – for when he changes his mind. I’m most definitely not collecting them for myself. Definitely not”.

Shoesmith claimed in his article there are countless adults in the UK doing the same thing as him and had interviewed a number of people for the article. (In fact I read a statistic claiming that up to 15% of all children’s toys are bought by adults for themselves rather than their children). One thing I can appreciate is Shoesmith’s view that “it’s easier to hide adult nostalgia when you have a child who is genuinely interested in the stickers”. This definitely holds true in my household. One of the people interviewed for The Guardian article was 48-year old Mark Jensen (editor of a Newcastle United fanzine) and father to a 10-year-old son. He noted:

“For about four years [my son] would [collect] them all the time – the cards as well as the stickers…They were even banned at his school because of all of the arguments they caused. Some kids turned out to be far shrewder investors than others and rip other kids off by swapping the shiny stickers for normal ones and stuff like that…I do remember when I was a kid that there was a conspiracy story that some stickers were impossible to collect – there must be zillions of almost-completed albums out there. Nowadays I’ve heard of ‘virtual stickers’ but they are the antithesis to collecting in my view – you need the physical experience of opening the packet, all of your mates crowding round you to see what you’ve got”.

I agree fully with many of Shoesmith’s observations. I almost live vicariously through my 12-year old son opening his packets of World Cup football stickers. I love seeing his face light up when he gets a sticker that he really wants. I love seeing the anticipation of opening as I can remember those feelings myself, even though they were 35 years ago. I clearly remember going into school with a pile of ‘swapsies’ hoping that I could find the rarities needed to complete each double page. I loved it when I completed a line of three or four players, a page of players, a double page of players. It was like a bingo player filling up lines of numbers and then getting the full house (i.e., a completed page).

I never managed to complete a single football sticker book when I was a tweenager and there were always certain stickers that were seen as rarities (although got very close to a complete a Panini book in 1978). I loved the physicality of the books and stickers (and am no different now with my record and CD collecting – I always prefer CD and vinyl over MP3s). Shoesmith interviewed some academics for his article. Professor Carol Mavor (Manchester University) said that:

“Stickers are very tactile and old-fashioned. The humanity of touch is also very powerful. That’s why people love wooden toys, for example, because they have a unique feel, smell and are real. Adults don’t want to let go of their childhood completely…It seems, without being overly morbid, to be so far away from death, work and the other obligations of adulthood. As adults, we think of ourselves as different people from our childhood selves – the whole world was open to us and it was a free and more creative life.”

According to psychologist Felix Economakis (also interviewed by Shoesmith), there are likely to be gender differences and sentimentality:

“It’s down to sentimental attachment. Little objects from childhood are imbued with meaning because they remind us of people who may no longer be with us – it’s an association with the past through rose-tinted spectacles…Men are more into lists, while women tend to collect something with sentimental value. For men, partly it’s about status, and collecting for the sake of it. [Collecting is] quite a solitary activity”.

I also came across an interesting article written by P.M. Davies on the Design Thinkers website that related the collecting of football stickers to gamification. In the opening paragraph, he talked of being addicted to collecting them (although I’m sure he meant in a somewhat pejorative sense). He wrote that:

“If you grew up in the UK you may remember Panini sticker albums that encouraged kids to collect stickers of their favourite soccer players…As you collected you filled up your album and traded cards with your friends in the struggle to complete the full album. Every week when I got my pocket money I went down to the newsagent to buy packets of stickers in the hope I would get that rare one that had so far eluded me. I wasn’t alone as thousands of kids did the same. The strange thing was I didn’t even like soccer! I never have liked soccer and loathed watching games or even talking about it – and yet I was addicted to collecting the stickers. This is a great example of how strong the power of collecting is for us. For me it overruled the fact that I had no interest (and in fact quite a dislike) for the subject matter and got me obsessed with completing my set. I also collected novelty erasers but this was a more freeform collection and it didn’t awaken quite the same obsession as the soccer stickers. In fact the mechanisms set-up by Panini, and other similar companies, were very clever indeed and it is these techniques that are being used more in gamification projects”.

Davies notes (as I have done in my previous blogs) there are many articles that have been written on the psychology of collecting. Davies claims most of these writings are on what he calls ‘freeform collecting’ (“the urge to collect things like erasers, marbles, clocks, cars, hats, teddy bears, postcards and so on”). Davies says these are freeform because there is no limit to the collection. He argues that it is the more “structured form of collecting” (such as collecting football stickers) are related to gamification (i.e., the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems) because it involves a number of key features (my emboldened emphasis):

  • “There is an achievable goal that is being moved towards (e.g. completing the entire sticker album);
  • You can see what your current progress is towards that goal (e.g. the filled versus blank spaces in your sticker album);
  • The scarcity effect is used (e.g. some stickers are harder to find than others);
  • Status (e.g. the status of your collection effects your own status amongst your peers);
  • Group identification (e.g. getting a sense of solidarity with other collectors

Davies claims these five features these form a very powerful motivational system and can be (and are) used in commercial situations (such as the awarding of badges as virtual rewards). There are debates as to whether such reward systems actually work (as the rewards have no value whatsoever in the real world). But as Davies noted:

“Research has been carried out which shows that the fun and interest in striving towards a goal is often the primary reward (Ariely & Norton, 2009). Therefore as long as badges are the embodiment of going through a good experience it becomes a symbol and not a reward in itself. Most of the controversy at the moment is actually a criticism of organisations who are applying the badge system incorrectly rather than claims that the psychology behind it is flawed”.

Looking at my own collecting behaviour, I can honestly say that the striving towards a goal can indeed be rewarding, but for me the actual acquisition of the item being collected brings about the biggest reward.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ariely, D., & Norton, M. I. (2009). Conceptual consumption. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 475-499.

Belk, R. W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W., Wallendorf, M., Sherry, J.F., & Holbrook, M.B. (1991). Collecting in a consumer culture. In: Highways and buyways: Naturalistic research from the consumer behavior odyssey, pp.178-215.

Davies, P.M. (2012). Collecting. Design Thinkers, February 13. Located at: http://www.design-thinkers.co.uk/collecting/

Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.

Shoesmith, I. (2014). The adults who get misty-eyed over Panini World Cup stickers. BBC Online News Magazine, May 6. Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27051215

Wikipedia (2014). Gamification. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification