Saturday science subject: Healthy gamers

Sitting in front of a computer or TV playing games several hours a day doesn't exactly help make you fit. However, as the New Scientist reports, a recent U.S. study suggests gamers may be fitter than the average American.

Researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Palo Alto Research Center, also in California, and the University of Delaware in Newark, quizzed 7000 players of the role-playing game EverQuest II about their physical and mental health. Participants were offered a specially created virtual weapon as an incentive - the "Greatstaff of the Sun Serpent". The researchers then combined the survey responses with statistics about players' online activities and playing habits.

The results suggest that adult gamers have an average body mass index of 25.2, compared to the overall American average of 28. The average gamer also engages in vigorous exercise once or twice a week, which the researchers say is more than most Americans. The reasons for this are not obvious, although the team suggest it may be because more educated, wealthier people are attracted to computer games, and these people also tend to take better care of their health.

On the flip side, the study found that subjects were likelier to suffer from depression and indulge in substance abuse. Scott Caplan of the University of Delaware surmises that gamers "may be drawn to use the game to help deal with emotional distress."

The study uncovered other noteworthy facts, too: more men in their thirties played the game than young men, and women played longer hours than men. That said, Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University points out that the research "only studied one multiplayer online game, [so] its conclusions may not be true for single-player console games."

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