Informal social networks, such as those found in online games, are becoming increasingly important in people’s lives, particularly in relation to mental health. While gaming is often seen as a form of entertainment and relaxation, concerns are growing about the potential negative effects of excessive video game playing, such as isolation, addiction, and mood and behavior changes.
However, new research published in Sociological Focus highlights the importance of social support for online gamers. The study, conducted by Dr. Tyler Prochnow and Meg Patterson from the Department of Health Behavior at Texas A&M University, along with colleagues from the University of North Carolina and Baylor University, used social network analysis to investigate the structure of an online game site at two points in time.
The research focused on an online football simulation game site, surveying 37 members at the start of the season and 40 members at the end. The study analyzed social support, sense of community, and symptoms of depression affecting social connections over time. The results revealed that social support, a sense of community, and depressive symptoms played a role in changing the social fabric of gaming over time.
The findings demonstrated that people who reported more online social support and less real-life support were more likely to reach out to other members. Communication was more likely to occur when it was reciprocal or transitive, and members who spent more time on the site were more likely to have communicative connections. Additionally, 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.
While online communities can have their drawbacks, such as political and ideological echo chambers, this research emphasizes the importance of a sense of community in online gaming sites. It also highlights the need for more formal support, including telemedicine mental health care options, for members experiencing symptoms of depression. With further research, these findings could inform interventions to improve social cohesion and mental health in socially isolated communities.