Texas A&M professors study positive effects of online gaming
Online games can create a social support network with positive effects for the players’ mental health, a study led by two Texas A&M University professors has found.
Tyler Prochnow and Megan Patterson, social network analysis experts in the university’s Department of Health and Kinesiology, along with Logan Hartnell, a researcher from The Ohio State University, used an online football game simulation to study users’ interactions and relationships while playing the game.
The study’s 40 participants provided feedback on the types of conversations they had while playing the game. The researchers found evidence that the gamers’ were using their fellow players as an online support network, leading to a reduction in depression, Prochnow and Patterson said,
“We had seen a lot of literature about the negative aspects of gaming, and how many health professionals were concerned for isolation and depressive symptoms,” Prochnow said. “We wanted to see what these games do to allow individuals to connect, either with others online that they don’t know, or some of their friends that they may not be able to see in person.”
The researchers were looking to see what types of conversations were being had and with whom. Prochnow said that the participants had some knowledge of others in the game, leading to more meaningful conversations.
The study included research from 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020, right after the pandemic started.
Prochnow said the game involved coaching college football teams, and involved building a community with different users.
Patterson said the game’s social component required the users to interact with each other to improve their chances in the game.
The gamers ranged in age from their teens to about 50 years old.
While the researchers did not listen in on the conversations while the participants were playing the game, each user answered questions and shared information about the conversations that took place during the game. Prochnow said those conversations consisted of multiple topics, including the impacts of COVID-19 and how it affected their school and work life.
“A couple of the more interesting responses were some of these people were just reaching out to other people that they hadn’t seen in the game lately, and hadn’t seen their username pop up and just wanted to reach out,” he said. “Some of these people started talking about the game they were playing, but those conversations morphed into a lot more than just the game. They were talking about real life things. … It was a richer dialogue than what you might expect.”
Prochnow found that through conversations during the game, the gamers were utilizing resources and seeking advice in search of support they might not otherwise have in their real-life support teams.
“They were talking about how they knew one of the other people online had gone through the adoption process and sought advice on that; and for going online, you don’t expect to be then talking about adoption,” he said. “There was also a participant saying they had just lost 100 pounds and people were asking about how they did it.”
He said the study showed it was “all about these connections that bring in new resources and new information that you may not necessarily have in your close-knit group already.”
The researchers plan to expand the study to larger sample sizes and different games in search of information about what types of games might be facilitating these types of community-building conversations and how the connections might be filling a need in the individuals’ lives, Prochnow said.
Patterson said the study “showed that we can find meaningful connection even when necessarily we don’t have access to it in-real life.”
She said her biggest takeaway from the study is that “being connected to one another is … good for our health and our well-being.”
“This study shows that even if you put effort in and it’s not traditional, it may not necessarily be how everyone else connects, but finding your people is so good for you,” she said. “If I could wish anything on anyone to improve their quality of life and health, it is to connect with people, and everything else seems to fall into place.”
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