These findings highlight the importance of social connectivity and support on online gaming platforms
05-11-2023

Could online gaming improve social connectivity?

Playing video games has become a daily occurrence for millions of Americans. While online gaming can provide entertainment and relaxation, excessive play may also lead to isolation, addiction, and changes in mood or behavior. Moreover, the effects of gaming on social connectivity can vary, and anxiety and depression caused by such activities are growing public health concerns. 

In a recent study led by the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, experts have suggested that social connectivity and support are critical for online gamers.

The researchers used social network analysis to examine the social structure of an online football simulation gaming site to assess how social support, a sense of community, and symptoms of depression affect social connections over time. In the game, participants played as the head coaches of football teams, competing against other members of the site for 10 months.

“We wanted to showcase the community building and informal relationships built through these online settings,” said study lead author Tyler Prochnow, an expert in social network analysis and health at Texas A&M.

“Many people feel a sense of community, support, and comfort through online gaming, and I think we need to do a better job measuring these connections and fostering them to improve mental health in today’s digital age.”

Prochnow and his colleagues collected data on demographic factors, members’ hours spent on the gaming site and playing other video games, as well as their depressive symptoms, perceived ability to talk to someone about problems, and important people in their lives that they communicate with on the site and in real life.

The analysis revealed that social support, sense of community, and depressive symptoms played significant roles in changes to the game’s social structure over time. For instance, people who reported more social support online and less real-life support were more likely to reach out to other members of the site. 

Moreover, communication ties were more likely to form when communications were reciprocated or transitive (involving three people groups or clusters), with players who spent more time on the site and reported feeling a greater sense of community being more likely to develop such ties over time. 

These findings highlight the importance of social connectivity and support on online gaming platforms, particularly for socially isolated communities in times such as the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, the researchers warn that members who report greater depressive symptoms may need more formal support, including telehealth mental health care options. Further research in this area could inform interventions to improve social connectivity and mental health for online gamers.

The study is published in the journal Sociological Focus.

More about online gaming

Online gaming refers to any type of game that can be played via the internet. This can include a wide variety of games, from simple card and word games to complex multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Here are a few key aspects of online gaming:

Types of Games

MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games)

These are games where thousands of players interact in a virtual world. Players often take on roles or characters in a fantasy or science fiction setting. Examples include World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.

First-Person Shooters (FPS)

These games often involve combat scenarios where players view the game from the first-person perspective. Examples include Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Counter-Strike.

Real-Time Strategy (RTS)

These games require strategic thinking and quick decision-making. Players often control entire armies or civilizations. Examples include StarCraft and Age of Empires.

MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas)

These games involve teams of players who work together to defeat the opposing team. Examples include Dota 2 and League of Legends.

Casual Games

These are simple games that can be played in short bursts, often on mobile devices or in web browsers. Examples include Candy Crush Saga and Words with Friends.

Battle Royale Games

These games involve numerous players who compete until only one is left standing. They often involve elements of survival, exploration, and scavenging. Examples include Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).

Platforms

Online games can be played on various platforms including PCs, consoles (like PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch), and mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).

Social Aspect

Online gaming has a significant social aspect. Many games include chat features, allowing players to communicate with each other. Online gaming can also foster a sense of community, with players forming guilds or teams and working together to achieve common goals.

eSports

eSports, or electronic sports, refer to competitive online gaming. Professional gamers compete in tournaments for prizes, which can reach millions of dollars. Popular eSports games include Dota 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Business Models

Online games can be free to play, with optional in-game purchases (freemium games), or they can require an upfront purchase. Some games also operate on a subscription model.

Issues and Concerns

Online gaming also has its share of issues and concerns. These can include addiction, cyberbullying, privacy concerns, and the potential for predatory behavior. Many games also feature in-game purchases, which can lead to overspending.

As technology continues to evolve, online gaming is likely to become even more popular and diverse. Developments in virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, for example, are likely to provide new and immersive gaming experiences.

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By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer

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