Some day soon, the Olympic Games may have video games on the schedule.
“But video games aren’t a real sport,” you cry.
And yet, besides the obvious analogy between video games and traditional sports in terms of competitive skill, a new study from researchers in South Korea suggests striking psychological similarities between pro gamers and pro athletes.
The study surveyed 60 professional baseball players and 55 esports players – that is, professional gamers who participate in organized tournaments.
Both groups turned out to have a similar pattern of personality traits relative to 60 people with similar demographic traits taken from the general population. On average, the gamers and baseball players scored higher on three temperament traits:
- Novelty seeking: A tendency to seek out new and stimulating experiences
- Self-directedness: A tendency to regulate one’s own behavior in accordance with a coherent set of goals
- Self-transcendence: A tendency to experience one’s self as part of a larger whole
Professional esports and baseball players also had lower levels anxiety overall than participants from the general population. That finding makes intuitive sense insofar as high levels of anxiety may interfere with being able to compete at a high level.
Gamers and baseball players didn’t resemble each other in all respects, though. The professional video game players performed better on a test of working memory while the professional baseball players were quicker on a test of emotional recognition, perhaps reflecting the particular skill sets involved in electronic versus team sports.
Of course, these findings don’t definitively settle the debate over whether video games are a “sport” (which is arguably just semantic) or whether they should make an appearance at the next Olympics (which probably mostly depends on whether you like video games or not).
But they do shed light on an interesting parallel between games that take place on a field and those that take place on a screen: both types of games seem to select for some of the same psychological characteristics among people competing at the highest levels.