How Social is Social Video Gaming Really?
The growing popularity among teens of social video gaming, in which players are encouraged to interact with each other (either offline or online via the internet), often raises concerns about youngsters’ social life. It is feared that, especially through online social video gaming, teens may displace their offline social contacts for online ones. A Computers in Human Behavior study supports this concern, and shows that both on- and offline social gaming negatively relate to the amount of close friends teens have. Online social gaming is also associated with a lower quality of offline friendships: the more frequently teens play online social video games, the lower the quality of their offline friendships. However, it remains uncertain whether gaming leads to lower friendship quality or whether it is the other way around.
- The more time teens spend on social video gaming in general (both on- and offline), the less friends they have to discuss personal matters with.
- Online social gaming, in which teens play with others via the internet, relates negatively to the quality of teens’ offline friendships: the more frequent teens play these games, the lower the quality of their offline friendships.
- Offline social gaming, in which teens play the game together, is not related to friendship quality.
- These findings should alert parents, policy makers and game developers about the possible negative consequences of online social games. However, the precise implications are unclear, because it is uncertain whether gaming leads to lower friendship quality or whether it is the other way around. Either way, excessive online social gaming could be an indicator of social problems in adolescence.
Is there a relationship between teens’ social video game play (online and offline) and the quantity and quality of their offline friendships?
342 14- to 18-year olds (mean age: 16 years old; 71% were boys) who reported engaging in active video game play
Via telephone interviews (undertaken between March 2011 and March 2012) teens were first asked to report their number of good friends, and confidants (those where they can discuss personal matters with). Then the quality of those friendships was assessed by asking questions about their emotional support (e.g., “When I need comfort and support, somebody is there for me”), and instrumental support (e.g., “When I have worries, there is someone to help me”). The frequency of social offline (playing with others on the same computer or console) and social online (playing with others via the Internet or console network) play was assessed as well, just as their average daily play time.
Facts and findings
- The more time teens spent on social video gaming in general (on- and offline gaming taking together), the lower the number of confidants within their offline social circle.
- The same pattern was found for quality of friendships: online social video game play was related negatively to the quality of teens’ offline friendships: the more they played active video games with others via the Internet or console, the less emotionally supported teens felt by their offline friends. However, offline social video game play did not relate to perceived quality of friendships.
- This indicates that only frequent online social video gaming is related to a lower quality of offline friendships.
- On average, teens played social video games 1 hour and 19 minutes per day, and social online games were played more often than social offline games.
- Critical note: 71% of the respondents in this study were boys, so the results might not be representative for all teens, but primarily for boys
- Critical note: This study does not allow for any conclusions about cause (e.g., online and offline social video game play) and effect (e.g., quantity and quality of offline friendships). The results only show that frequent social online play is associated with less emotional supportive offline friends and cannot say anything about what causes what.