Communities and Online Gaming Uncategorized

The role online gaming communities play in social bonding for marginalized individuals

The role online gaming communities play in social bonding for marginalized individuals


The focus of this paper is on how online communities in MMORPG games offer a space for individuals to connect to other like-minded individuals. It explores how communities are built through the interaction and collaboration needed when performing a task together as a group. While there are some concerns that electronic media like social media networking, television and online gaming are weakening the social bonds that would be formed when interacting with others in the real world, this paper seeks to argue that these online gaming communities do the opposite in that it offers a space where communities are formed with strong ties that often extend into the offline world.

Online gaming and communities

A pre-cursor to the online computer gaming industry as we know it today, was the video arcade game halls that many young adolescents frequented after school in the 80s and 90s. Although strong social bonds were formed around these video games, it can be argued that the bonds formed in online gaming communities are equally strong, albeit not always formed in person.  In an article written in 2013 for The Guardian, Keith Stuart tells this story:

I hated senior school. I was lonely, I didn’t fit in, I found gangs of boys intimidating and I couldn’t work out the rules. I wasn’t specifically bullied, but I was … marginalised. I had computer games though, and through them I met some friends who played and swapped new titles, classics like Paradroid, Way of the Exploding Fist and Elite. One of those boys and I started making games together for the Dragon 32 computer (Stuart, 2013). 

Stuart goes on to describe the friendships that were formed over many hours spent playing and developing online games together, as well as feeling included in a bigger community that ultimately aided him through his adolescent years. Although online computer gaming started out as Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) which were largely text based interactive games, it has since evolved to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Gaming communities with rich graphics and cinematic style gameplay. The men and women who play these games are the same boys and girls who use to meet up after school and on weekends in video arcade game halls to play video games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Pac-Man and the like. Online gaming communities such as the guilds found in World of Warcraft, play an important role in giving a platform to marginalised youth, adults with certain social disorders and individuals with disabilities, by providing an avenue through which to connect with other like-minded individuals to form communities and foster lasting friendships. 

Williams, Ducheneaut, Xiong, Yee and Nickell (2006, p. 340) argue that World of Warcraft offers a ‘third place’ with different communities formed by like-minded individuals who foster relationships / friendships while playing the game, with some of these friendships extending to the real world as well. Some scholars are concerned that mediums such as online gaming, social media and television are having a negative impact on community building as the nature of the medium is passive and disengaging.  However, on the other side of the spectrum lies the fact that the Internet has brought together people across different continents and time zones and have provided platforms for individuals to connect and form communities. One such place in particular is the guilds that are found in MMORPG games such as World of Warcraft. MMO games allow members to communicate with each other through online chatting while playing the game. It is this chatting that allows members to form relationships, build communities and bond with each other. These communities are seen as a new ‘third place’ in that it offers a space for people to meetup outside of their normal home and work lives, similar to meeting up in a pub or restaurant (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006).

The collaborative nature of games such as MMOs means that members of guilds have to work together to achieve a mutual goal for example slaying a particularly difficult opponent. Achieving this goal can often take a lot of time, meaning that these members spend a lot of their time online together, all the while communicating with each other through the chat platforms in the game. While the tone of the conversations in these ‘third places’ are often kept light-hearted, expressions of genuine concern for fellow guild mates’ welfare proves that the communities formed in online gaming environments extends the friendships to the offline world as well. One such example was discussed in the article by Steinkuehler and Williams (2006) in which a player of the game Lineage II was facing a hurricane in his hometown. There were several expressions of concern for his welfare as well as his guild officers sending him text messages to check that he was safe. This supportive culture proves that the online gaming communities form strong social bonds across geographical areas as facilitated by the nature of this technology (p. 900). Gamers who met while playing online games together will often socialise offline as well by meeting up in informal settings such as pubs or when going to gaming conventions (Caratarescu-Petrica, 2015, p. 28). 

While some scholars may argue that online gaming communities are not an all-inclusive culture, in a news article on the online Wired magazine in 2014, Moore talks about a gay man finding other gay men who enjoyed online gaming and identified as somewhat of a gay geek gamer community. The article goes on to explain how this individual found an entire community on Reddit (a social news aggregator) who had the same interests as him. Although the community was online, the individual endeavoured to meet up with others from this community in real life. From this drive came the first gay gamer convention called GaymerX. Based on this one could argue that offline events born out of online communities further proves that strong social connections are formed through virtual communities and offer a space for individuals who may otherwise have felt ostracized to come together and share their passions and experiences with others like them. This hypothesis is further supported by studies performed by Trepte, Reinecke and Jeuchems (2011), where it was found that “the underlying mechanisms of social support in an online gaming context resemble the psychological principles of offline friendship formation”. (p. 838) 

Most of the popular MMORPG games require players to create an avatar to represent them in the game world. Studies done in players playing Second Life have shown that these individuals will identify with their online avatars and be pre-occupied with the presentation of their avatar. They will also create an identity for themselves in this Second Life world (Caratarescu-Petrica, 2015, p. 29). Individuals also admit to having diverse / intersectional identities. In the popular MMO game World of Warcraft players identify “on several levels which intersect each other.” (2015, p. 40). Gamers identify not only with their fellow guild members in the online world (friends and family with whom they play regularly) but also identify with (or sometimes reject) their fellow nationals. In studies done by Jenson, Taylor, de Castell and Dilouya it was found that individuals would also in some instances create avatars that represent an “idealised version of the self” (2015, p. 863). It therefore stands to reason that the communities built in these games provide a space for individuals to explore different aspects of their identities. Identifying with the communities built in games like WoW are analogous to sports fans identifying with their favourite sports team. Because these virtual communities offer a safe space for individuals to explore their identities, it contributes to the feeling of community and the building thereof. 

Online gaming communities also offer relief from the real-world stresses that can often be experienced by people with physical disabilities. In an article written for the Washington Post (2019) Miller describes how several disabled people found new life online as it offered them a platform where they were able to live out their fantasies and find an escape from their real-life worlds. As in the movie Avatar, these virtual worlds offer a platform for people with disabilities to do things that they would not normally be able to do in real-life. The article further explains how these individuals sometimes find fame by streaming their game playing to others, thereby feeling more accepted in a community regardless of not being able to physically interact with others. Disabled people are able to find relief from their real-world existence because in the online world they are no longer bound to a wheelchair or bed or have missing limbs. They are free to explore different worlds, and in doing so can meet other people. This also helps alleviate their feelings of loneliness and segregation from physical communities due to their disabilities.

For individuals with social anxieties or disorders the allure of virtual communities in online gaming also offers an avenue where friendships can be formed without the pressures of having to read social cues in the real world. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder for instance often struggle to make friends in real life as they are socially awkward and struggle to read non-verbal social cues. Individuals who fall into this category also have a higher propensity for screen-based technologies. While there are few studies to date that have definitively proved that people with ASD thrive in online gaming communities, it could be argued that because these virtual communities provide a space that offer less pressure to behave in a socially acceptable way, they will gravitate more towards these communities. The virtual community provides a space for individuals with ASD to feel more included and to have social interactions on their terms which in turn could help them to feel less lonely and anxious. In studies performed by Sundberg (2018, p. 108) it was found that “almost forty-one present (40.5%) of the participants with ASD and 34.8% of the control group indicate that they had met a close friend through an online game”.  Taking into account that the same study showed that most individuals with ASD reported not having a best friend, the results showing that those who played online games made a close friend through the game is fairly significant. 

While many scholars lament the evils of virtual communities in diluting the social bonds that are built through physical interactions, one could argue that virtual communities offer a space for individuals experiencing loneliness to find other individuals to connect with. Online gaming communities are one of these spaces, and as Martoncik and Loksa (2016) discuss in their article, “Lonely individuals are attracted to the online environment and the social interaction in it” (p. 128) Virtual communities such as the guilds in World of Warcraft offer a place for people with social anxiety to explore a space where they can remain relatively anonymous, and because there is no physical interaction, they can be themselves because they are in the company of individuals who may not even know that they have a social disorder, therefore allowing them to be themselves without fear of judgement. For people with social anxieties the lack of physical interaction reduces their anxieties and enable them to connect with others, be more open and friendly and form relationships on their terms. It is a place where they can demonstrate their technical prowess and gain admiration from others, something that may not happen in real-life. 

Online computer games offer a form of escapism that is alluring to individuals who have to face social pressures and possible discrimination based on what gender they identify with, their race, physical disability or mental disorders. MMO games like World of Warcraft require gamers to learn and master certain activities. When an activity is mastered it offers the gamer a sense of achievement, which is another motivating factor driving individuals to these games. While playing the game and mastering the activity or skill, the player is full immersed in the game and forget about their problems and what’s happening in real life. This valuable break from the worries in their real lives help gamers to regroup and look at problems from a different angle. It is this sense of accomplishment that help gamers to overcome their anxieties around their mental disorders and disabilities and refreshes them to take on another day. It also offers them an avenue to socialise with other individuals in an area devoid of the issues they may face on a daily basis. As Frostling-Henningsson (2009, p. 561) so eloquently states “Since virtual worlds replace the real with a simulacrum, the references to reality dissolve. This allows gamers to evaluate other gamers on personal qualities and gaming style rather than on physical appearance.” 


Online gaming communities such as the guilds found in World of Warcraft provide opportunities for marginalised youth and adults with certain social disorders, to connect with other like-minded individuals to form communities and foster lasting friendships. This new ‘third place’ that is formed through virtual communities allow like-minded individuals to connect and form friendships. These friendships often extend to the offline world and friends formed through these avenues will often express real concern and offer help in the real world to people they’ve met online. For adolescents who are not particularly interested in participating in sports, online games offer a place where they can meet up with others and form friendships. People with ASD and physical disabilities also find that virtual communities offer a space where they can be themselves and perform activities, which they may not be able to do in the real world. While some scholars may fear that online gaming communities are threatening society by drawing individuals away from physical interactions and community building, the counter argument can be made that stronger bonds are formed online as gamers are free to be themselves and explore their identities in a safe environment without the fear of being judged by their physical appearance. 

Reference List:

Caratarescu-Petrica, I. (2015). Do those who play together stay together? The World of Warcraft community between play, practice and game design. Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology, 6(1), 27-53. E-ISSN: 20680317

Frostling-Henningsson, M. (2009). First-person shooter games as a way of connecting to people: “Brothers in Blood”. CyberPsychology & Behaviour, 12(5), 557-562.

Jenson, J., Taylor, N., de Castell, S., Dilouya, B. (2015). Playing with ourselves. Feminist Media Studies, 15(5), 860-879.

Martoncik, M., Loksa, J. (2016). Do World of Warcraft (MMORPG) players experience less loneliness and social anxiety in online world (virtual environment) than in real world (offline)?. Computers in Human Behaviour, 56(1), 127-134.

Miller, H. (2019). ‘It’s my escape.’ How video games help people cope with disabilities. The Washington Post.

Moore, B. (2014). Building a gaming con for an ostracized LGBT community. Wired.

Steinkuehler, C.A., Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as “Third Places”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communictiom, 11(4), 885-909.

Stuart, K. (2013). Gamer communities: the positive side. The Guardian.

Sundberg, M. (2018). Online gaming, loneliness and friendships among adolescents and adults with ASD. Computers in Human Behaviour, 79(1), 105-110.

Trepte, S., Reinecke, L. & Jeuchems, K. (2011). The social side of gaming: How playing online computer games creates online and offline social support. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28(3), 832-839. 10.1016/j.chb.2011.12.003

Williams, D., Ducheneaut, N., Xiong, L., Yee, N., Nickell, E. (2006). From tree house to baracks. The social lie of guilds in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 1(4), 338-361.

15 replies on “The role online gaming communities play in social bonding for marginalized individuals”

Great paper Deidre! I found the beginning of the paper really engaging, not written in the style of a traditional essay introduction and with the full length quote too it got me excited to keep reading. As someone who plays online games a lot and is on the spectrum your paper really spoke to me. I hadn’t given any thought as to whether there was a link between my condition and my love of gaming, but I felt you deftly showed me that there probably is and gave me lot’s to think about in regard to what I enjoy and how I relate to others. So thank you very much for your paper, great effort!

Hi James,
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and for your comments and praise. While I myself am a gamer, I hardly ever play with other people online because I am actually painfully shy when it comes to meeting new people (even when it is not face to face). But while doing the research for this paper, it made me realise that people can use these “third places” as a tool to meet others like them and build relationships in an environment that they might find less confronting than real life. That was really an “Ah-hah” moment for me, and I really appreciate hearing from someone like yourself that it has also given you a fresh perspective on online gaming. Have you met many other people through online gaming? And have you extended any of those friendships to the offline world?

Hello Deidre!
I liked how you included a great quote/case study supporting your argument at the start.
Your article was very well researched, and was laid out neatly. It has a great flow to it!
In my draft paper (sadly not my final) I discussed Autcraft, which is a Minecraft server for children on the spectrum and their parents. It’s a safe space for them, and has a vetting process to protect the users. It has done great things for these kids’ sense of community and development of social skills. Here’s the link if you wanted to read more about it
I personally think it is so interesting how much children on the spectrum have connected with Minecraft! It’s great that so many people who are often bullied are able to form stronger communities through digital media.
I liked how you outlined that games brings everyone up to the same level, whereas in offline communities people are on different social, mental, and physical standings.
Do you think playing online enhances the players’ social skills?

Hi Anne-Marie,

Thank you for your comments and taking the time to read my paper. I enjoyed the article you linked with regards to children on the spectrum and building their social skills through Autcraft.
I think if people who play games online choose to do so with others who are playing the same game they will naturally build their social skills. Historically gamers have been deemed to be social recluses because they seldom chose to interact with others in their peer groups, but as I have tried to convey in my paper, I think they build rich social structures in these online games, and that in itself will aid them in developing social skills. I also think that the social skills learned in gaming communities could help marginalised individuals to better connect to people offline – what do you think?

Hey again Deidre,
You’re most welcome!
I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Autcraft.
Yes, I agree completely, I think people discredit how much socialising actually goes on in games. You conveyed it really well in your writing!
I also believe that social skills learned in game can help offline: in my paper I talk about how on social networks kids can “practice” their identity expression and social skills, and then adjust themselves accordingly to the feedback online. If they see that certain words get a positive response online, they’re likely to repeat it offline (e.g. a compliment or bringing up tv shows or asking about someone’s life). However I think that marginalised individuals may feel like the people around them don’t understand them as well as the people they meet through gaming – would you agree?

Sorry wanted to clarify my last sentence – they might feel more isolated as they mainly connect with people in game. Although they would definitely benefit from connecting with people who make them feel validated!

Hello again Anne-Marie,

I definitely think that marginalised individuals would gravitate towards their online friendships more as these would naturally be more devoid of judgments and misconceptions about their condition.

In one of the other papers in this stream titled “Despite claims MMOs cause social isolation, they are actually third places that prevent loneliness and support people with mental health issues.” by Stuart Suridge, he talks about how people create avatars and play in these online games because they don’t have to reveal their true identities until they’ve gotten to know the other individuals better and formed friendships with them.

So yes, they may feel more isolated in real life, but then on the flip side of it, if they make friends through online communities they may be able to meet up with those friends offline and feel less isolated.


Hi Deidre,

Well done on your research paper! You explore a very interesting subject of gaming and community building. Yeah, I used frequent arcades in the day because I had no computer of my own. It was a good time for bonding and connecting with your peers in the real gaming world back then.

Online gaming is special because of the sheer numbers of people that can be involved and, of course, “all players are born equal” in the virtual world, notwithstanding the gaming exploits of each player though. As you say in your conclusion, even physical disabilities / disorders are cast aside as people explore their fantasies, share, collaborate and form friendships. I agree.

Did you find any cases of gaming addiction in these online communities and perhaps in their real world lives as well?

I enjoyed reading your paper. Excellent work!


Hello Bayayi,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my paper and for your feedback. To be honest, addiction was not one of the avenues I explored while researching my paper, but it is an interesting view point. I was aiming more to explore the benefits to these individuals rather than the downsides so I think it was a case of “ignorance is bliss” 😁

However I could imagine that it would be a very real and present danger for these individuals as it offers a level of escapism from their realities that could be very easy to grow addicted to, so you make a good point there.

Have you heard of or read any evidence to support this question?


Hi Deidre!

This was a really great paper, I found it super interesting, so thank you for that! I like the similarities between ours, but also very much enjoyed learning more about the benefits of gaming in terms of its effects on more vulnerable or marginalised communities. You also used some wonderful concrete examples of how game-specific tasks have helped individuals and had some effective analysis.
Games get a bad rap sometimes, but they truly can be a place for people to form valuable connections and reap significant social and emotional benefits 🙂
There was one thing I was wondering about. If these individuals feel that the online world is more accepting towards them, or that it provides an escape from their everyday life, could this provide an ideal scenario for gaming to become a source of addiction? Are there any measures or tools that could maybe help prevent that? For example, attempts to bridge these relationships into the offline world(as you mentioned)? This was one of the questions I had to think about when writing my own paper, so I would love to hear your take on it 😊

Overall a really engaging and wonderfully-written paper, well done Deidre!

Kind regards,


Hi Vanessa,

Sorry for not replying to you sooner! I must admit, I really had to think about your question and it really challenged me! 😊 But after reading a few of the other papers in this stream I realised that as some of the other authors said, there is a risk for addiction, but then the benefits these communities hold for certain individuals far outweigh the risks.

I’ve also subsequently learned (through the other papers) that there are measures in place already, to attempt to prevent people from spending too much time online, such as questions asked unobtrusively.

I do know that there are regular gaming events held all over the world that encourages gamers to leave their homes and engage with others in real life, so this may be a place where people could be encouraged to take their online friendships, offline.


Hi Deidre!

No worries, excellent to hear that! 😊

And yes! I can imagine that these sorts of events act as an extension of those online communal connections, and ideally invoke that same sense of security or comfort the gaming world gives them, but in an offline environment.

Again, it all comes back to that idea of balance. I think that’s one of the key things here, connecting those feelings of security, comfort, happiness—all of those positive qualities—to a real-world context, and grounding them in a safe offline space. That’s when gaming is likely going to be at its most beneficial 😊

Thanks for your response Deidre!

Kind regards,


Hi Deidre,
I’d always thought that games were something that encouraged communication and community, and it’s nice to see there’s plenty of evidence that says they are!

It’s great that MMORPGs give people who might find face-to-face interaction hard a chance to socialise and find a community. Everyone deserves friends.

I see you and Anne-Marie have discussed whether online gaming might help people develop social skills, and I’d think they would. Online games might be a sort of safe space for people to observe others interacting without having to themselves interacting until/unless they feel comfortable. I’m aware that most girls with austism aren’t diagnosed as kids because they’re forced into more social situations at a young age, and so they don’t tend to have that awkwardness in social situations that people see as a big sign of autism.

Hi Chloe,

Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and for your comments.

That’s a really interesting observation about girls with autism, I never know that! Thank you for sharing that.

Do you think that is still happening today?


Hey Deidre,

I like how you take a look at online gaming group through the lens of a minority community. I think the majority of professional gaming scenes tend to feature certain races more heavily than others and as such, gaming communities are more celebrated and supported among these races whereas some groups suffer as they do not receive the same engagement and support from the majority of the gaming world.

I also appreciate you touching on how games can be an escape for people with social anxieties or mental disorders. I definitely think gaming can be beneficial for such individuals. However, what do you think of the often-toxic nature that can be present in such communities and can this have a negative impact on the individuals previously mentioned?

I certainly enjoyed reading your paper!


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