This paper explores Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), Massive-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), Social Media Gaming, Streaming, and E-Sports, and the affects that these platforms may have on day-to-day offline (non-Internet) life. It will make reference to 23 peer-reviewed articles to argue that online gaming has provided an escape from reality into a world where players are able to mould their identities, build communities, and experience interactive virtual realities with the ease of just logging in. It concludes that gaming can be good for people, including adolescents, if they use it moderately and correctly. It will outline the ways that this can be done, and the potential outcomes of this. It will also consider counter-arguments, including the affect gaming has on mental illness. This paper will explore how gaming and online (Internet) digital socialization can affect that way that people interact and maintain healthy social lives positively through statistics because offline and online life is closely linked. It will also argue that gaming helps connect people regardless of physical or circumstantial difference, and presents significant opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Keywords: Online Communities, Gaming, MMORPG, Internet Gaming Disorder, Game Teams, Clans, Social Media, Digital Socialization, Online Identities, Virtual Realities, Interactivity, Mental Illness, Streaming, Role-Playing, E-Sports, Multi-Player Games, Social Networks, Online Platforms
Gaming is often viewed with the same stigma as online dating is, due to fear of the unknown and the incomprehensible, particularly for older generations. Adolescents who game are usually under scrutiny by friends, family, and even strangers, regardless of what gaming might mean to them or do for their lives (Nam, 2017, p. 160). Due to the increased world-wide popularity of smart phones, applications, cloud storage, and social media, however, the line between the virtual and the real world is becoming more blurred. When the Internet was first introduced, it was more thought of as “other”. Now, many people would not be able to undergo their daily routines without the assistance of the Internet and their mobile or technological applications. People are relying more on it, which means that gaming is becoming less of an “other” activity. Whether a person is playing an MMORPG or simple social media games, such as “Farmville” or “Candy Crush”, they are still contributing to the regular use of online gaming that goes towards positive mental and social development in other areas (Malecki, 2017, p. 3).
There are results from a study by Kowert et al. (2015, p. 51) that counteract the argument that IGD is an issue, stating that rather than causing psychological or psychosocial issues, gaming provides a platform where individuals can build themselves and flourish in a social environment that is accepting and not immediately intimidating. Most gamers will argue that their use of gaming, regardless of the amount of violence involved, can be an effective method to reducing pre-existing stress. A study by Roy and Ferguson (2016, p. 14) discovered that stress levels do reduce when people are participating in gaming that is competitive and collaborative. 75% of gamers believe that they have made close friends due to online interactive play, and 40% of gamers discuss offline real-life problems and help come up with solutions while they are playing games online with their team (Kowert et al., 2014, p. 385).
Bargeron and Hormes (2017, p. 388) claim that IGD is a valid mental disorder. IGD is defined by people who are addicted to gaming regularly, and without gaming may experience withdrawal or cravings. They are likely to relapse if they have quit, regardless of how much time has passed. Bargeron and Hormes (2017, p. 393) also claim that frequent gamers can be parallel to drinkers, smokers, and gamblers in particularly bad cases, and that those who experience IGD are usually less satisfied with their lives, and are therefore more likely to be impulsive and self-destructive.
Rewards may also be a reason why gamers with IGD find it difficult to quit. Reward programs are an effective tactic that game producers use to encourage players to keep gaming. It means that they will receive a reward if they complete tasks or goals that have been set out by the storyline that the game follows, even if it is as simple as cake baking shop upgrades. A lot of the time, the upgrades are what keep players online, especially if it would normally cost real money (Huang et al., 2017, p. 399).
A study conducted by Eklund and Roman (2017, p. 284) discovered that students are 1.5 times more likely to make friends if they disclose that they are gamers later in the school year, rather than straight away. Regardless of this, games can change the way that students interact, and can motivate friendships within a school if students play on the same servers. It is imperative that if people are going to start gaming, or parents are going to let their children game, that they strive to stay active in other areas, or that they at least try to be social within the gaming world, because those who are more socially active online are reportedly less likely to experience problems with gaming or offline socializing later in life (Carris, Rooij, Mheen, Musci, Xue, & Mendelson, 2017, p. 472).
The average gamer spends between 10-20 hours gaming throughout each week (Kowert, Vogelgesang, Festl, & Quandt, 2015, p. 51). People are more likely to play frequently if they have made online friends that they cannot meet in person, which can affect their offline lives (Domanidi, Festl, & Quandt, 2014, p. 107). The more often that players interact with other players and build friendships in an online context, the more likely they will drift from offline friends if they are not gamers (Kowert, Domahidi, Festl, & Quandt, 2014, p. 385). Gamers who want to quit gaming, or think that they spend too much time gaming, usually do not make the move to change because they feel they are breaking the trust of their teammates. When signing up for games, particularly online interactive ones, a player will often feel a sense of loyalty that they must uphold in order to successfully play out the scenarios that each game will introduce (Huang, Huang, Chou, & Teng, 2017, p. 398).
Eklund (2014, p. 527) argues that online and offline life is closely linked, with leisurely activities like socializing, sharing hobbies, information, and footage, making day-to-day interaction become increasingly digital. Due to players working together to support an overall goal or gain for their game-play, they are easily able to build relationships through similar characteristics and mindsets. Similar to working and sporting relationships, social gamers are linked through their accomplishments and active movement through challenges (Eklund, 2014, p. 528).
E-Sports is another gaming arena that needs to be considered. Game teams, also known as “clans”, are made up of real players competing virtually in tournaments across the world (Martoncik, 2015, p. 208). E-Sports can help people who are seeking a place to belong, where they can exercise their mental power and their gaming abilities in a non-threatening and comfortable environment. It allows for communities to come together without the blurring of physical distraction and interpersonal bias. They are able to exercise various physical abilities without physically having to work for them offline, which is largely why E-Sports are popular amongst gamers who lack regular physical activity or ability in their lives.
The attraction to online gaming is that of an elaborate world of fiction, not dissimilar to the narrative found in books and film. Unlike these platforms, though, gaming provides the user the opportunity to participate within the narrative, and, most of the time, change how it plays out, and how it ends. It provides more than books and film because it gives the player the ability to exercise their mental strength, using various techniques and strategies to overcome difficult puzzles. It also allows players to interact with other people, building upon the realistic approach towards community problem-solving and collaboration (Martoncik & Loksa, 2016, p. 127). There is significant culture surrounding gaming because of the ability that it has to connect everyone regardless of age, gender, education, sexuality, ethnicity, finance, or social status. This is particularly attractive for people who struggle with difference due to social anxiety or mental issues (Eklund & Roman, 2017, p. 284).
There are many effective ways that a gamer can experience positive emotional and mental growth through gaming. MMORPG is an online gaming platform where people can pretend to be different characters, build virtual lives, and fight for imaginary universes that seem more real the more a player immerses themselves into scenes (Lundmark, 2015, p. 54). Games like “World of Warcraft”, “Guild Wars 2”, and “Skyrim: Online” fit into the MMORPG field. Modern skills can be used and fine-tuned when becoming involved in an MMORPG space. It is easier to comprehend when used with 21st Century skills, so it is important that those going into MMORPGs understand the skills that they will need if they are to actively help their team (Sourmelis, Loannou, & Zaphiris, 2016, p. 41).
During the past decade, MMORPGs have increased to over 50 million players around the world. This is largely due to the welcoming nature of online communities within MMORPG, where many players experience less loneliness and social anxiety when playing online, compared with what they may experience in the offline world (Martoncik & Loksa, 2016, p. 127). Playing MMORPG with offline friends, however, strengthens community relationships and enhances the offline lives of gamers (Snodgrass, Lacy, Francois, Dengah, & Fagan, 2011, p. 1211), because gamers are more likely to bond if they find that they are physically located close by to someone in their team (Trepte, Reinecke, & Juechems, 2012, p. 832).
Online gaming works to build teams and trust within a community because MMORPGs would not work without active participation, interaction, and cooperation between players in a team or guild within a virtual environment (Lundmark, 2015, p. 54). Using microphones to speak with guilds, teams, and clans is likely to increase trust within an online community. This produces a realistic affect, that differs drastically from the isolation that involves collaborative play through text message (Williams, Caplan, & Xiong, 2007, p. 427). Through voice communication, they are able to put a mental sound to the characters that they are collaborating with in MMORPG communities. This kind of gaming is more likely to produce strong online friendships, and reliability to stay online as individual gamers as a way to continue communication between teammates and friends.
Henaff, Michinov, Bohec, and Delaval (2015, p. 84) discovered that socialization is more common when people have the choice to remain anonymous. This is not due to their lives being necessarily embarrassing or awful, but rather it is because anonymity allows them to connect with individuals or groups regardless of difference. In the offline world, people find it more difficult to make friendships or connections with others if they are different, even in small ways such as eating habits or similarities in the watching of film or TV. In the online world, it is much easier to connect on a single similarity, and to continue from there, centring the friendship around that single thing. Gaming is a social hub that encourages positive anonymity through interaction and end goals. “Twitch” is a program that can exercise this, where social gamers film, or “stream”, their gaming so that others, the more antisocial or less confident gamers, can watch. Players that subscribe to this content are seeking information and social interaction, particularly if they are having trouble figuring out puzzles within a game on their own (Sjoblom & Hamari, 2017, p. 985).
Since Internet connectivity was introduced to the virtual world, gaming has become a much more interactive and friendly experience. Rather than only sharing controls with the person beside you on a console, people are now able to connect from a worldwide spectrum, sharing the gaming experience regardless of physical boundaries (Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2015, p. 556). Gamers can connect with people they may have never crossed paths with offline. They are able to share information and learn from one another both in online and offline contexts. Social gamers game with older friends or acquaintances, as well as new ones that they make along the way, on a regular basis, which can positively build connections towards their social capital (Domanidi et al., 2014, p. 107). They can use this highly social environment to their advantage when they are tackling careers and personal growth. For those that struggle with socialising offline, gaming can be a great way for them to overcome their protective instincts, and this can eventually show when they are interacting outside of the virtual world, as well (Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2015, p. 557).
Social gaming can produce a positive outcome, particularly for younger minds. It assists in cognitive and social development, offering opportunities for online collaboration and interaction for virtual communities. Social gaming encourages participation, and can teach people from a young age how to communicate with people from various walks of life (Piirainen-Marsh & Tainio, 2014, p. 1024). It is not difficult to find groups that are focused on gaming that get together, discuss games, and even game together as a group in a single physical area. Groups like these are easily found at offline events such as “Supanova” or “OZ Comic Con”, where gamers are encouraged to attend and test out different modes of new gaming releases (Reer & Kramer, 2014, p. 179).
This paper has argued that gaming provides an escape from reality into a world where players are able to mould their identities, build communities, and experience interactive virtual realities with the ease of just logging in. It has argued that gaming can be good for people if it is used in the right way, and has outlined the ways that it can be done and the outcomes from this. It has considered counter-arguments, including “Internet Gaming Disorder” and the negative affects most people misconceive to be true about gaming. This paper has introduced statistics and argued that offline and online life is closely linked, giving people the opportunity to connect regardless of physical and circumstantial difference. It has concluded that gaming and online digital socialization affect the way people interact and keep stable social lives in a positive light, presenting significant opportunity for personal and professional growth.
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