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Jeanette Kozlowski

I-Gaming 101

21 August 2008

In a field that's only about a decade old, few universities have degree programs entirely devoted to cyberpsychology -- the investigation of how the brain functions in the no-holds-barred World Wide Web. Anonymity paired with the ability to interact with almost anything fuels a seemingly consequence-free realm. That lack of reality and its affect on people has sparked the interest of several curious psychologists.

A growing discipline that among other things explores online gaming and gambling, cyberpsychology, in scholarly terms, is the study of the human mind and behavior in the context of human-technology interaction. Currently, only two universities appear to offer master's degrees on the subject: Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Ireland. Although it's still very much in its developing stages, the daily role cyberpsychology plays around the globe is apparent.

"The Internet is a part of our everyday lives -- in our relationships," Monica Whitty, a senior lecturer in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, told IGamingNews by telephone. "How do we develop and maintain relationships online? The social scripts in our relationships are important."

Dr. Whitty, who’s been researching relationships and online implications for 10 years, introduced the one-year cyberpsychology program as part of the university's School of Social Sciences. The program, which has eight students currently enrolled, will cover everything from online gambling and gaming to online relationships, cyber ethics and Net safety.

One of the field's most well-known and vociferous researchers, Mark D. Griffiths, will teach courses in the newly minted module at Nottingham on his specialty: online gaming, gambling and Internet addiction. With more than 21 years of experience in researching gambling and gaming (some obviously prior to the advent of the Internet), Dr. Griffiths has published hundreds of papers on the subject, many specifically on online gambling and addiction.

“I think the research I do has impact already,” Dr. Griffiths told IGN. “Almost every paper we publish (on online gambling) has implications in some jurisdictions.”

Dr. Griffiths emphasized that Nottingham Trent's program does not comprehensively cover online gambling -- it's cyberpsychology across the spectrum; however, online gambling, gaming and relationships will be highlighted in three separate lectures. The program’s students will be able to conduct research on any topic pertaining to cyberpsychology, but he does believe there's a good chance students will explore the subjects he specializes in.

"I think students are heavily influenced by what topics are discussed in class, but students are free to do whatever they want to do," he said.

Dr. Griffiths agrees with Dr. Whitty in that this is a good time to introduce a cyberpsychology program at Nottingham Trent because there’s been enough time for pertinent research to surface. Moreover, Dr. Griffith said that online gambling companies have begun to realize the potential in releasing statistics of players’ habits, to universities, as quantitative evidence of gambling habits.

“The Internet brings us challenges we never had before,” Dr. Griffiths said. “People’s actual behavior can be tracked by gambling companies -- this could be very exploitive.”

But he adds that the more forward-thinking gaming companies become in sharing this information, the more everyone can learn about how to quell addiction and how to help those with gambling and gaming problems.

Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, or IADT, has a cyberpsychology program that also explores various aspects of online gambling and addiction.

“We recognize that online gambling has positive aspects, too,” Gráinne Kirwan, coordinator for the cyberpsychology program at IADT, told IGN in an e-mail.

“For example, it offers players the opportunity to socialize with others or to relax and unwind after a stressful day,” she went on. “As with many other online activities, such as social networking or online dating, online gambling has both positive and negative potential; we encourage students to examine all sides of the phenomena involved.”

In its second year, IADT started offering a two-year program to earn a Master of Science in cyberpsychology last fall. With 28 students enrolled in the program for this fall, Dr. Kirwan expects to see the first batch of cyberpsychology graduates in the summer of 2009.

"We are delighted with the students' progress to date," Dr. Kirwan said. "The work they have submitted is to a very high standard, and both the internal and external examiners of the MSc are very impressed with their achievements. We're looking forward to having a big celebration on their graduation day!"

In her second year studying cyberpsychology at IADT, Mary O'Brien said she entered the program because it synthesized everything she learned during her undergraduate education -- psychology, English and computer-based education. Although her focus is eLearning and online gift giving, Ms. O'Brien has found many aspects of cyberpsychology fascinating.

"(What surprises me is) the fear many people have of anything online, as if the online world were not part of the world in which we live," Ms. O'Brien told IGN in an e-mail. "While it is a relatively new phenomenon, it emerged and is evolving from our world generally and is a product of society with all its wonders and ills."

And it's the combination of the two -- the wonders and ills -- that keep cyberpsychologists full of questions, pressing on to find clear-cut answers as the Internet seeps into the human consciousness more and more each day. While these researchers are hard at work, those in the online gambling industry will have to sit back and see what undoubtedly interesting, even influential, studies these cyberpsychologists will publish.

I-Gaming 101 is republished from
Jeanette Kozlowski
Jeanette Kozlowski