Study: People remain calm, make most of time left during apocalypse

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The world’s destruction has been played out in science fiction movies over the years, but a new study finds that if the end really was near, most people wouldn’t resort to senseless violence. Instead, they’re more likely to stay calm and make the most of time left with friends and family during an apocalypse — that is, if video games have anything to do with the matter.

To reach this conclusion, researchers at the University at Buffalo studied the game logs of many who had played the closed beta of ArcheAge, a choose-your-own-adventure fantasy game. Players can opt to be numerous characters in a medieval setting, whether it’s a naval commander, a skilled crafter, a monarch, or an outlaw, among many other roles.

Of the 80,000-plus gamers examined, more than 275 million unique player behaviors were recorded.

apocalypse, explosion
A new study finds that people don’t resort to violence when the world’s end nears, and instead are more likely to keep calm and enjoy the rest of their time with loved ones.

A set of 75 player behaviors were split into 11 subcategories; these subcategorized behaviors included building houses, partying, and engaging in combat.

The beta, which took place in 2012, only lasted 11 weeks, presenting a great opportunity for the researchers to look at how people would potentially behave in an end-of-the-world situation.

“We realize that, because this is a video game, the true consequences of the world ending are purely virtual,” acknowledges Ahreum Kang, the study’s lead author, in a university release. “That being said, our dataset represents about as close as we can get to an actual end-of-the-world scenario.”

The researchers observed how near the end of the 11 weeks, some anti-social behavior— such as committing murder— naturally increased in-game. A majority of players, however, demonstrated prosocial behavior, such as gaining and maintaining friendships.

“It’s kind of like sitting next to a stranger on the airplane. You may keep to yourself during the flight, but as the plane reaches the runway, you strike up a conversation knowing the end is in sight,” says Kang.

These findings may run contrary to popular belief, as video games have often been derided for the violence and gruesomeness they depict. In fact, one recent study finds that people who play violent video games don’t show a lowered level of empathy.

It may still be a bit premature to celebrate, as a video game can by no means replicate the feelings felt in a real life situation. If friends and family were at stake, would an ArcheAge player behave differently? Perhaps the conclusion of the study only applies to video game connoisseurs, and being a gamer would increase one’s likelihood of behaving civilly during an apocalypse.

Still, the study would seem to be the first serious inquiry into looking at how player behavior varies at the end of a beta. 

The study will be presented at the International World Wide Web Conference in Australia in early April.


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