Playing Against Isolation: Can Online Gaming Help Offset Negative Effects of Reduced In-Person Interactions During Isolating Events?
Human beings are social creatures, and tend to be happier and healthier when engaging in social interaction (Cacioppo et al., 2011; House, 1987; House & Kahn, 1985). When people have less interaction or lower quality interaction then they desire, they can experience effects of isolation. For example, COVID-19 led to decreases in in-person social interaction for many people, potentially leading to feelings of isolation. People started playing more online games during this time. The current study aims to assess two potential benefits online gaming may have provided: fulfillment of relatedness needs (i.e., feelings of connection) and perceptions of social support (i.e., feelings there are those one can turn to for help). Through these benefits, I investigate whether playing online video games may buffer isolation effects. To test this, participants filled out a questionnaire measuring online gaming habits, isolation behaviors, basic psychological needs, social support, mental-wellness, satisfaction with life and perceived stress. Using linear regressions with robust estimation, I tested for relationships between the relation of online gameplay and isolation to relatedness, social support and well-being. The relation of online gaming to the outcomes examined varied with level of isolation and outcome. Most interestingly, the relation of online gaming to social support went from negative when isolation was low to positive when isolation was high. That is, while possibly detrimental when isolation was low, it was beneficial when isolation was high. The implications of these findings can inspire future research regarding online social gaming and the negative effects of social interaction.
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