A Fresh Look At The Video Game Time-Suck

You're playing a game, moving from objective to objective, and suddenly you look over and… six hours have passed. Where did the time go?

I think we've all been there at one time or another. It's a situation that seems to manifest while playing video games more than other activities. I've lost hours reading a good book before, but never to quite the same extent as playing a game. According to a new study from the University of Prague, time spent playing games is directly tied to a gamer's "Time Perspective."

Originally reported in Psych Central, the study was based on the theory of "Time Perspective" put forth by Stanford's Philip Zimbardo (the same Zimbardo of the well-known Stanford Prison Experiment). Zimbardo's theory goes like this:

The initial idea of time perspective assumed the existence of three temporal frames in the human mind-past, present, and future. Within this theory, a mind can shift attention between these frames, that is, a mind can focus on past experiences (past frame), present stimuli (present frame), or anticipated future events (future frame).

Zimbardo's empirical verification of the idea brought two main findings. First, people do not use each temporal frame with equal frequency; they usually prefer one frame, which they use more often than others, and this preference is relatively stable in time.

Second, it is useful to divide both past and present frames into two independent factors (past positive and past negative; present hedonistic and present fatalistic) because they represent different mental characteristics with different correlates. Thus, five time perspective factors emerged as five personality factors.

The Prague study, named "Cyberpsychology, behaviour, and Social Networking", was headed up by a researcher named Katerina Lukavska. From the study's description:

This article focuses on the relationship between the time perspective (TP) personality trait and massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) playing. We investigate the question of frequency of playing. The TP was measured with Zimbardo's TP Inventory (ZTPI), which includes five factors-past negative, past positive, present hedonistic, present fatalistic, and future. The study used data from 154 MMORPG players. We demonstrated that TP partially explained differences within a group of players with respect to the frequency of playing. Significant positive correlations were found between present factors and the amount of time spent playing MMORPGs, and significant negative correlation was found between the future factor and the time spent playing MMORPGs. Our study also revealed the influence of future–present balance on playing time. Players who scored lower in future–present balance variables (their present score was relatively high compared with their future score) reported higher values in playing time.

That's a meaty chunk of text, but the gist is that depending on where people focus their general mentality (on the present, the past, or the future), they'll play video games more or less frequently and for longer or shorter amounts of time. And the findings, generally, support the idea that players who test as future-oriented play games less than those who are present-oriented.

Interestingly, the highest playing times tended to correspond with th "present fatalistic" mindset. Quoted from Psych Central:

Present fatalistic is connected with dissatisfaction, aggression, and depression. We could hypothesize that people who spend significant time playing develop the present fatalistic orientation.

However, it is more likely that people who already are present fatalistic play more, because playing helps to decrease their negative feelings. This would support Yee's suggestion that extensive playing is an indicator of mood management.

In other words, it's likely that the study reinforces the idea that gaming is a therapeutic escape for those who feel dissatisfied and depressed. Rather than causing those feelings, people who feel that way often seek out games in order to help release tension and as a coping mechanism.

Psych Central is careful to point out that this was a single study done on 154 Czech test subjects, so we would be wise not to read too much into the results.

That said, there's a lot of good food for thought there. I find that my own temporal perspective shifts from time to time. Sometimes, I'll be focused on an event in the future, and find myself unable to sit back and let myself get swept away by an epic video game. Other times, I'm right there in the moment, and more able to focus and enjoy.

The question "why we play" is a complicated one—we writers are certainly happy enough to opine about it, but it's nice to see someone applying a little scientific method to the question as well. Guess it's time to get myself a bit more Present Fatalistic so that I won't mind losing the next few weeks of my life to Skyrim.

Losing Track of Time While Playing Video Games or Gaming [Psych Central via Game Politics]


    I once lost a whole 24 hours straight to Lemmings on the Mega Drive. Maybe its the not knowing what is going to happen next that makes the time go by so quickly. In real life there is so much structure that we know how most days are going to play out before they happen (to an extent)

    RTS games are the worst time eaters of all time for me. Not necessarily my favorite genre, but they never cease to be able to make five hours feel like one.

    Civ's option to add a clock to the display is very handy.

    This all depends on the type of game being played, COD single player usually takes around 6 hours, multiplayer can vary. if your playing assassins creed or GTA play time can go for a lot longer due to the amount of game content. It also depends how much time you have to play games. if you have the day off you probably wont care how much time you spend playing a game you enjoy, but if you are going to see a movie or meet friends for dinner youll only play as much as you have time to play. We only really lose track of time because were enjoying ourselves and we dont really care. things like movies or listening to music are easy to judge, movies are only about 1.5 to 2.5 hours long and an album will usually last max an hour. Some games just have a lot of content so we play for longer. Lastly on the subject of books you cant honestly say noones lost track of time while reading a book, some people lose whole nights sitting up late reading.


    These kind of studies annoy me and just seem like a longwinded way of saying something simple, probably like i just have, if you enjoy something youll devote time to it. HAVE FUN GAMING!!!

    I'm not the gamer I once was now that I have a full time job, but I did skip school to play 12+ hour sessions of world of warcraft, I once had an 18 hour session of counter-strike: source and a 16 hour session of call of duty MW2.

    Now days I can't seem to stay up past 2am.

    I lost 6 hours to one game of Civilisation V. Uninstalled it after that.

    Funny, I thought MMO players would be future, not present, oriented.

    It's always about getting to the next level, getting gear, making money so you can buy something. It's about what you can get soon, or with some work.

    I usually snap out of it at around the 3 hour mark. I'm too distracted being a smoker and all. It has to be a bloody good game though. Started Dead Space recently on Steam. That definitely qualifies.

    I don't play MMO's.

    The neverending "just one more go", just that next bit to see what happens. The vicious circle for the end game.

    I have spent like 14+ hours in WoW one time, another session where i finished uncharted 2 in one sitting, 7 hours maybe 8, ive played numerous FF games for like 12+ hour sessions, i dont even realise or take it into account anymore lol i just play until i pass out or get bored. Some games i just never get bored in.. Portal 2 i finished in one sitting as well, couldn't stop playing!

    I had the apartment to myself for an entire weekend when Mass Effect 2 came out. I remember waking up on monday morning and being completely confused and bewildered. I remembered playing Mass Effect 2 a lot, but could have sore that it should have been sunday.

    That was an extra crappy day at work.


      Dammit, I hate not having the option to edit my early morning typos :-P

    Also scientists discovered the Sky is blue, "We think the Sky has alway been blue for a very long time and will probably to continue doing so in the near future."

    Sim City - I have night's in my past where I sat down at 8.30 to start playing and when I finally came up for air it was 3am. Nowadays I tend to limit myself to night (up to 11) except for tonight where I just spent until 2.30am playing BF3 with my interstate brother - I still have those occassional allnighters on the weekend if it's a good multiplayer game.

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