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Top Tips

Expert advice on how to play smart.

Benefits of social online play

Dr Rachel Kowert

It is widely acknowledged that video games are valued sources of play for many children, adolescents, and adults. However, the role that they play in the development of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills is less recognised – these games provide unique opportunities for developing, honing, and reinforcing the range of abilities and benefits associated with play


Rather than creating generations of anti-players (as the stereotype would suggest), new research indicates that video games and especially social games help to maintain friendships, create new ones, and lead to a greater social and emotional well-being, a stronger sense of identity, and a higher life satisfaction.

Benefits of Social Online Play

It is widely acknowledged that video games are valued sources of play for many children, adolescents, and adults. However, the role that they play in the development of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills is less recognized, – these games provide unique opportunities for developing, honing, and reinforcing the range of abilities and benefits associated with play. Rather than creating generations of anti-players (as the stereotype would suggest), new research indicates that video games and especially social games help to maintain friendships, create new ones, and lead to a greater social and emotional well-being, a stronger sense of identity, and a higher life satisfaction.

Friendships

Social games can provide a fun, shared activity that help strengthen pre-existing friendships. This may seem unsurprising, when you take into account that more than 75% of players report playing with pre-existing, offline friends or family members. In this sense, playing video games together is simply a new, shared activity that friends and families can enjoy together – much like playing a board game or a team sport. Even better, friends and families can play with other friends and family members across the globe from the comfort of their own home!

But what about the remaining 25% of players who do not play with pre-existing friends? Do they also miss out on the benefits? Not at all!

The interactive and playful nature of social games can helps promote the creation of new friendships that are actually more long-lasting and intimate than those made in other online spaces, such as chat rooms or social networking websites. Furthermore, co-players are often regarded as valued sources of advice and key sources of emotional support.

Playing social games with others has been found to be particularly beneficial for individuals who are shy, socially anxious and/or isolated. Visual anonymity (i.e., “you can’t see me and I can’t see you”) can provide an extra level of security, removing obstacles that may hinder socialization and friendship making in traditional contexts. For instance, shyness is associated with social hesitation and excessive monitoring of behaviour. This can make it difficult to make and maintain friendships in “real-time”, face-to-face scenarios. However, through visual anonymity and the use of text-based communication systems (as are often integrated into games), inhibitions are reduced as social obstacles are removed allowing for more effective communication while playing online. This has been supported by research that has found that shy individuals are using online games as a tool to overcome their inhibitions and generate new friendships, as well as strengthen old ones.

Other benefits: identity and life satisfaction

The benefits of social games can extend beyond creating and strengthening friendships, particularly for adolescents. Players in this age group, have been linked to increased life satisfaction, perhaps because of the sense of identity they provide (i.e., being part of a group of “gamers”). Remaining social while playing video games has also been linked to reduction in symptoms associated with potential problematic use/addiction.

What does this all mean? 

This means that games are not going to destroy our lives or the lives of our children. In fact, if you look at the research as a whole, a more consistent conclusion would be that online social games are simply new places where friends and family can come together, have fun, and meet new people!

How to encourage social play 

Want to encourage your friends and family to play more? You can start by suggesting some that you can play together! Mobile games (i.e., games that can be played on your smartphone) may be a good place to start as they are accessible to anyone with a smartphone and tend to be so-called “casual” games, which means they do not require any special skills or prolonged amounts of time to enjoy. Your mother, neighbour, and pre-teen should be equally equipped to jump right in and start having fun!

Dr. Rachel Kowert is a research psychologist and internationally respected expert on video games. She has written several books which help cut through the hyperbole and, at times, conflicting arguments on the impact and use of video games.  Rachel serves on the board of DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association) and the International Communication Association (ICA) Game Studies Division. For more information about her and her research you can visit her website at http://www.rkowert.com.

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