Online gaming brings socialization with potential problems


“Video games are a waste of time.” Maybe you said that to someone, or someone said it to you. Playing video games is a pointless, silly activity which takes time away from valuable, more fulfilling things. Why would anyone waste their time moving pixels – or polygons – around a monitor?

For one thing, the jury’s still out on how video games affect people. For another, gaming might be how some people – particularly the shy and awkward – socialize. A new study has shown players of online adventure games like “World of Warcraft” may be getting many socialization benefits from their games.

Gaming isn’t always antisocial

Researchers from the University of Presov in Slovakia used “World of Warcraft” message boards to recruit 161 research subjects. The subjects then completed a questionnaire asking them about social anxiety, loneliness, their experiences with the game and the kinds of behaviors they engaged in while playing. The participants took the same questionnaire twice – once while imagining the actual world, the other while imagining the virtual game world.

The results showed the subjects had much less anxiety and loneliness in “World of Warcraft” than the real world. Additionally, players who teamed up with others in the game’s “guilds” reported they felt much less lonely while playing.

Massively multiplayer games

World of Warcraft is usually classed as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). These games have roots going back to the 1970s. In MMORPGs like “World of Warcraft,” players play the game simultaneously with many other players across the globe, either cooperating with them on various adventures, or competing with them in duels.

Unlike most video games, these games usually have no set point where the action ends; players can continue playing the game for as long as they like, having never-ending adventures and rewards.

Although it’s a good thing that socially anxious gamers seem to benefit from playing these games, their open-ended design may also create problems for players as well.

Problem gaming

A study conducted in 2007 by Syracuse University professor Joshua Smyth, Ph.D., analyzed the gaming behaviors of 100 college students. The students were randomly assigned to four different types of games – traditional arcade games, home console games, single-player computer games and a computer MMORPG.

After a month, Smyth found the subjects who played the MMORPG played for a longer period of time than those who played the other games. They also reported a poorer quality of sleep – and a higher level of interference with academics – than the other players did.

However, Smyth also found the MMORPG players enjoyed greater positive results than the other players, including the acquiring of new friendships. “The most striking result of this study is playing online multiplayer games had much great positive and negative effects on people than playing traditional single-player video games,” said Smyth to Syracuse University’s news service.

Additional studies have found a link between MMORPGs and problematic behaviors. Some researchers have found video games can activate the same reward regions of the brain that activities like gambling do, and like addiction, overuse of video games can result in horrific tragedy. Too much of anything can be a problem, and when a hobby develops into something which interferes with schooling, work or health, outside help may be needed.

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About the author

Brian Moore is a  20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. 

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