Social Gaming, Lonely Life?

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In recent years, there have been rising concerns about the potential negative social impact of online video games, particularly in relation to adolescent players. While there has been a wealth of research in this area, none has yet to provide information relating to the potential broad social changes that may occur due to extended online video game play through social displacement mechanisms. In this context, social displacement refers to the idea that engaging in social online video game play offsets offline socialization due to a displacement of time. As individuals spend more time socializing online, they inevitably spend less time socializing offline. This can be problematic, as there is believed to be a substantial trade-off between online and offline friendships, relationships, and interactions, with offline interactions being more “socially valuable” than online ones in terms of providing instrumental and emotional support.

My most recent article, entitled “Social Gaming, lonely life? The impact of digital game play on adolescents’ social circles”, addresses this concern and evaluates the potential influence of social displacement due to video game play on the size and quality of adolescents’ social circles. Specifically, following research questions were addressed:

RQ1: Are there relationships between online video game play and the size of adolescent players’ social circles?

RQ2: Are there relationships between online video game play and the quality of adolescent players’ social circles?

RQ3: If significant relationships emerge, are these relationships indicative of social displacement?

Drawing from the the large German sample recruited for the “SOFOGA” project (n = 570), the relationships between social video game play (both off- and online), and the size and quality of adolescents’ social circles were assessed. Enlisting hierarchical regression analyses (controlling for age and gender), the results revealed that increased social online video game play, but not social offline video game play, corresponds with smaller, and lower quality, offline social circles. Even though this does not directly implicate displacement effects (as they were not specifically assessed through a longitudinal research design and analysis), one could postulate that inverse linear correspondence between social online game play and relationship outcomes is representative of a loss in the size and quality of friendships as social online game play increases. Longitudinal research is needed to confirm this possibility as well as assess the impact of these declines on everyday socialization, such its potential negative influence on the development and maintenance of social skills.

If you would like to learn more about this study, you can access the article online or find it in the July 2014 issue of Computers and Human Behavior. Special thanks to my co-authors Emese Domahidi, Ruth Festl, and Thorsten Quandt.