Research breaks stereotype of ‘lonely’ online gamers

Man playing video game

Research from Edge Hill University has revealed that contrary to popular belief, online gamers are socially competent, have high self-esteem and aren’t lonely and isolated.

Psychology Lecturer Dr Linda Kaye questioned gamers who play ‘Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs)’ which allow hundreds or thousands of people to play simultaneously online.

Whereas much previous research suggests links between online gaming and anxiety and depression, Linda and colleagues found MMO gamers had strong feelings of identity related to their self-worth.

They also found that by identifying themselves as gamers they had higher levels of social competence (how well they interact with others) and lower levels of loneliness.

Linda said: “Gamer identity is often stigmatised which could operate as a threat to one’s self esteem.

“Our research shows that gamer identity was upheld positively in respect of self-regard. The MMO gamers felt strong feelings of belonging and self-worth.

“Affiliation through this sense of identity and being part of a community may provide a buffer against experiences of loneliness and isolation.

“This disputes long-held stereotypic perceptions of online gamers as lonely, isolated, and socially inept and of lower status than other social groups.

“This can perhaps be explained by the social affordances provided by communication in online gaming spaces eg visual anonymity and the fact the game provides a perpetual topic of conversation which might be important to people who have difficulty communicating and maintaining friendships in ‘offline’ contexts because they’re shy or insecure.

“We found those engaging more in exploring their identity online communicated more often with more people therefore enhancing their social competence.”

The research surveyed 708 MMO gamers (67% male) with an average age of 29 years old. The majority were experienced players, and reported engaging in a range of MMO activities (contributing to discussion boards) and playing for 5-15 hours per week.

The research article ‘The role of social identity and online social capital on psychosocial outcomes in MMO players’ by Linda Kaye and Rachel Kowert of the University of Münster and Sally Quinn of the University of York is available here.