How social support and depressive symptoms relate to connections made among online gamers

Carly McCord, Tyler Prochnow, Meg Patterson, Whitney Garney, Jordan Nelon, Logan Hartnell


Introduction: Based on an industry report from the Entertainment Software Association, over 65% of Americans play some form of video game daily. Many public health professionals are concerned with online gaming’s effects on mental health, citing greater risk for depressive symptoms and reduced real life social involvement. However, online gaming may offer some level of social connectivity. In fact, over 55% of frequent gamers agreed gaming helped them connect with friends. Young adults may also use online games to compensate for pre-existing in-person social difficulties through the use of chat functions and other networking opportunities within the gaming platform. The purpose of this study was to determine whether social support experienced “in real life” and depressive symptoms were related to the existence of ties within an online gaming network. Methods: All active members from an online gaming site (n=101) were invited to participate in the study. Participants (n=37) were asked to report demographics such as age, race, education, marital status, employment, and the amount of time they spent on the site. Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Social support was measured and divided into support from “in-real-life” (IRL) friends and online friends. Members were also asked to nominate members of the online community with whom they spoke to about important life matters. Moran’s I was used to determine spatial autocorrelation of depressive symptoms and IRL support. Exponential random graph modeling was used to determine the parameters that were significantly associated with tie presence between members. Results: Members were significantly more likely to reach out and speak to other members within the online gaming network about important life matters if they reported more site hours, more depressive symptoms, and less IRL support. While depressive symptoms, IRL support, and site hours predicted the presence or ties, they were not significantly spatially autocorrelated within this network. Conclusions: Online gamers who felt lower social support were more likely to have spoken to others within their online network. While this result is only cross-sectional, it may suggest members are filling an IRL social support deficit with friends they have met online. Additionally, members who reported more depressive symptoms may feel the online gaming community is a safe environment to cope and connect which might not be afforded to them within their “real life” social circles. Future research should measure whether online social connection developed through gaming sites decreases depression over time.

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