When people on the outside looking in – usually parents or non-gamers – see video games, they often brood about the disengagement of the hobby. They claim that gamers spend too much time alone and not enough energy pursuing friendships and social connections in the real world. But is this just perception? Researchers have studied the social interactions of video gamers for years and what they’ve discovered may surprise you.
Studies Show Gamers Thrive in Real World
Old gamers – those in their 30’s – experienced a world of one-player games like Final Fantasy, Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and The Secret of Monkey Island. These games developed a specific view of what gaming was supposed to be.
“I grew up in the 1980s when single player games were – with few exceptions – all there really was,” veteran gamer Dave Kirk says. “Maybe that’s a subconscious influence on me even today. I really liked Grand Theft Auto V, and I’m big-time into racing games such as F1 2013 and Forza Motorsport, but I play all of them exclusively single-player.”
If you were to place Kirk in a room of today’s young gamers, he’d be in the minority. Whether it’s Far Cry, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, FIFA, Madden, or Wii Party, today’s games are inherently social. And believe it or not, the research suggests that these games may actually enhance a player’s social skills and intellect.
“There is emerging evidence that video games may allow players to express themselves in ways they may find difficult in the real world. People discuss real and serious issues, they can talk about things they wouldn’t in normal situations,” says Dr. Daniel Johnson, a researcher specializing in social behavior. “This seems to be happening because of the strong friendships games like [Word of Warcraft] create. Alternatively, it could be the anonymity and comfort players feel inside these worlds.”
A separate study conducted by a team of researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has found that high video game usage among children between the ages of 6 and 11 is associated with a 1.75-times increase in the odds of high intellectual functioning. It also backs up Dr. Johnson’s research, finding that children who frequently play video games are more socially cohesive with peers and do a better job of integrating into school.
That’s not to say there aren’t some risks and challenges associated with holing yourself away in a basement or bedroom for hours on end. Researchers have known for quite a while that prolonged isolation can feed bad habits and addictions – regardless of whether or not video games are involved.
“Some people enjoy solitude, and thrive in it. I am not one of those people. I love being alone for brief periods, but always feel anxious when left by myself for too long,” says Captian Michael Morse, a retired firefighter and recovering alcoholic.
When Morse spent long periods of time alone, he would turn to alcohol to numb these anxious thoughts. As part of his recovery process, he’s identified his need for social balance. “Now that I am keeping my alcoholic tendencies at bay I am able to begin to understand what makes me tick, and why I need both solitude and involvement,” he clearly articulates.
Spending hours alone playing video games doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to become an alcoholic, but Morse’s story just goes to show that there’s a need for balance. Yes, research has shown that gamers can have good social skills and high intellect, but there’s a time and place for turning off the game system and getting out of the house.
Balance is an integral part of healthy living – every gamer needs to find their point of equilibrium.