There is a persistent stereotype of the online gamer as a lonely, antisocial figure, sitting on their own in a darkened room, staring at a screen, and not talking or interacting with another human being for hours or days on end. Parents, especially, see their children playing video games for long periods and worry that they aren’t developing the necessary social skills to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Often, however, this betrays a misconception among non-gamers of what online gaming involves. With multiple players taking part from around the world, many online games are highly social spaces. And far from being isolated and uncommunicative, players may be engaging in dialogue, chatting, or otherwise interacting socially with friends they’ve made from various countries, cultures, and backgrounds.
Gamers can communicate with other players in a variety of ways, including via messaging apps and social media or verbally using headsets. With multiplayer games, a level of communication is essential during play, whether the game is World of Warcraft or internet poker at ResortsCasino. But even solo players can use games as a gateway to social interaction, as there are often forums, chatrooms, and social media groups where players can get together on the basis of their shared interest.
Skeptics may question whether solely game-related communication can be considered meaningful social interaction. It’s true that much in-game chat is either strategy-related or consists of “trash talk”: humorous boasts and put-downs intended to let off steam and put other players off balance. But studies have shown that in online multiplayer games, just as many messages are exchanged with genuine and positive social-emotional content. Even if these just consist of “thanks” or “that was funny,” they still create a brief bond between the players concerned. Players may also swap tips on developing skills to advance their gaming.
Making a connection
All of these forms of communication involve making a connection, no matter how fleeting or trivial. Admittedly, some messages are more meaningful than others. But even strictly game-related talk helps to forge social bonds and makes those involved feel part of something bigger than themselves.
Think about face-to-face games nights, where friends get together to play board games or cards. These have long been recognized as valid and meaningful forms of social interaction. Playing online is no different. You may not be in the same physical space, but on the other hand, you can have a shared experience with people from anywhere in the world.
An alternative form of socialization
Many people have difficulties with traditional forms of social interaction. Neurodivergent and vulnerable individuals may struggle with the numerous skills and understandings required for face-to-face conversation. Although many don’t even think about them, eye contact, tone of voice, body language, and other social conventions can be challenging for people that are – for instance – shy, depressed, on the autism spectrum, or traumatized by past relationships.
Some people can’t leave their house to meet others for practical reasons, such as physical disability. We all had a taste of this during the recent lockdowns when online gaming enjoyed a massive surge in popularity worldwide. While gamers had long known that playing was a way to build and maintain friendships, millions more now found that online games could help them avoid social isolation.
The advantages of online communication
People who struggle with regular conversation may find that communicating online has several advantages over face-to-face chat. The process is greatly simplified without worrying about missed cues or misunderstandings around non-verbal communication (body language, looks, etc.). There’s no pressure to respond immediately, and many people are more comfortable not being in the same physical space as the person they’re talking to.
Online communication can often lead to face-to-face meetups in real life, or ‘IRL,’ as gamers often refer to interactions that are not online. This step adds an extra dimension of risk for vulnerable individuals, and some may prefer to keep relationships purely online. Nevertheless, done safely, this can be a further step in developing social skills and deepening a friendship and, with it, a sense of connection to the outside world.
Learning social skills
Gaming can be a way to learn and improve important social skills. For instance, online multiplayer games often require players to cooperate to achieve a common end. Learning teamwork and cooperation, how to lead, and how to work alongside other individuals all constitute valuable life lessons. Learning how to compete in a friendly way and how to win and lose gracefully are important qualities that can be developed while playing games.
Online multiplayer games are often set in vast, open-ended virtual worlds that can be explored in ways that don’t necessarily contribute to winning or losing. In game worlds like those of Minecraft or Animal Crossing, players can build or join communities, visit with other players, and host or attend in-game events like birthday parties and even weddings. At the other end of the scale, simple, casual games on social media encourage gentle, friendly social interaction.
One thing leads to another
As mentioned earlier, there are also plenty of online spaces for fans and players of particular games to hang out when not actually playing. These fan communities often generate their own social events, both online and IRL, from quiz nights to conventions. Players can develop the friendships they’ve made in the game and talk about other subjects. Many gamers find these communities to be excellent sources of emotional support.
Many gamers also use the messaging app Discord to stay in touch, chat, and share information. However much you choose to engage, the important thing is that as a gamer, you feel you are not alone. You are part of a bigger phenomenon and are connected to other people through your enjoyment of the game. Game playing is, by its nature, a social activity, and online gaming is a great way to make friends and socialize with others.