Can Online Gaming Improve Mental Health?

A new study has been conducted to explore the social structure of online gaming sites and the impact of social support, community, and depression on their evolution. Researchers analyzed communication and social support delivery within online gaming platforms using social network analysis. Online gaming is a common hobby for Americans and can serve multiple purposes, such as entertainment and stress relief. However, excessive gaming can lead to isolation, addictive behaviors, and mood and attitude changes, potentially exacerbating anxiety and depression in individuals and affecting social relationships.

The study, featured in Sociological Focus, highlights the importance of social interconnection and support among online gamers. Tyler Prochnow, Ph.D., and Megan Patterson, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, and colleagues at the University of North Carolina and Baylor University explored the social framework of an online soccer simulation game site at two points in time. They assessed the effects of social support, community feelings, and symptoms of depression on social bonding over time.

The findings showed that social support, community awareness, and depressive symptoms play a role in social change in gaming structure over time. Members who reported feeling a greater sense of community and valued being part of the site were more likely to form communicative bonds over time. These members may feel more comfortable having conversations about real-life issues, indicating the importance of a sense of community in online gaming sites. However, online communities can also have downsides, such as acting as political and ideological echo chambers.

Members with less real-life support were more likely to form communicative connections but more likely to report depressive symptoms, suggesting a need for more formal support, including mental health care options, for members experiencing depression. The study reinforces existing research on the link between mental health, social support, and online gaming and points to the need for further research to improve social cohesion and mental health in socially isolated communities and groups.

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