Friendships Formed and Strengthened in Online Gaming Environments


This paper explores the potential for individuals to form and strengthen friendships in online gaming environments by consulting 14 previous studies surrounding the topic. There are multiple online gaming types that facilitate communication between gamers such as massive multiplayer online game (MMOG), massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) and virtual reality games. In some of these games, there is also the opportunity for gamers to create an avatar that does not have to reflect their offline appearance allowing them to explore their identity. This paper explores the potential for online gamers to form new friendships through their common interest in gaming and online communications and if those online friendships have the potential to become offline friendships. The paper will also look at the possibility to strengthen the bond between existing friends by including them in their online gaming experience. There is also a small focus in this paper on individuals that struggle to make friends in offline settings, specifically focusing on individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, to see if it is possible for them to form meaningful friendships in an online gaming environment.


Keywords: friendship, online friendships, online gaming, multiplayer games, MMOG, MMORPG, guild structure, virtual reality, avatar, identity, virtual identity, autism.


In the modern world of technology, there are many non-traditional ways to communicate. While many have adapted to the additions of emails, text messaging, instant messaging and even social media, the electronic gaming world is a new communication platform for many. Thanks to the online environments available on the internet, there are now multiple platforms that provide the opportunity to meet and interact with others online and it helps users build and maintain relationships (Domahidi et al., 2014, p. 107-8). The internet is becoming an increasingly popular method for individuals of multiple generations to meet people and make friends. Over half of American teenagers have made a friend online and almost a third of them have made five or more internet friendships (Schultz, 2015). There are many ways for individuals of any gender from any age group to connect with new people and be social online, however, females are more likely to use social networking platforms and form friendships by discussing common interests on public post and in private chats and males are more likely to form friendships in the online gaming world. (Schultz, 2015).

Here is where the focus of this paper was prompted. Forming friendships in an online gaming environment has been made possible thanks to virtual worlds and MMORPGs, especially ones that encourage teamwork or interaction with other players. The interest lies in if and how gamers can open up about themselves to other gamers and build friendships, how these friendship are beneficial to gamers, if these friendships have the potential to become offline friends after meeting in an online gaming world and how pre-existing offline relationships can be affected.

Literature Review

There are different types of online gaming environments that allow for communication between players. One type of gaming environment is MMORPGs which allow for a large number of gamers to play simultaneously in a virtual environment acting out a role within the game’s story (Bostan, 2009, p. 4).  A popular MMORPG is World of Warcraft, also referred to by gamers as WoW, an online game where gamers fight each other in order to level up and unlock new items and titles (Lee et al., 2012, p. 301). Notably, it is in these types of MMORPGs, the online gaming environments provide gamers with the opportunity to be part of clan or guild that requires teamwork and interaction between the team members in order to play the game successfully together (Trepte et al., 2012, p. 833). Some online games and virtual worlds provide world-like environments, such as Second Life – an online computer-based world that features world-like spaces to interact with others in and mimic offline activities (Linares et al., 2011, p. 50). However, there are other virtual worlds that have less world-like environments, such as Minecraft – a digital three-dimensional game that allows social interaction while also providing creative, survival, adventure and building challenges (Stone et al., 2018, p. 1). These types of MMOGs provide social platforms that can have players from all over the world interacting and socialising with one another (Tang et al., 2008, p. 1). While there are many different virtual realities, they often allow gamers to not only adopt a username but also create their own virtual identity or avatar, create objects and partake in activities that are common in the gamer’s offline life (Linares et al., 2014, pp. 51-64). However, these virtual identities do not necessarily reflect their offline appearance or personality.

Heider and Massanari (2014, p. 63) state that the challenge with computer-mediated communication is that there are no physical contextual cues; however, combine the online environment with a customisable avatar and gamers have another way to convey their personality and shape their online identity rather than just text-based computer-mediated communication (Domahidi & Massanari, 2010, p. 64). While Linares et al. (2011, p. 52) mention that these online virtual worlds allow for anonymity, they also provide the opportunity for gamers to explore their identity away from their offline body.

There is also a socialising aspect in many of these online virtual worlds. That socialising aspect is often a laid back communication environment that allows gamers to feel they could speak their mind and be heard without the interference of visual social cues, suggesting the online virtual world provides them equality and a more pleasant and satisfying socialisation (Griffiths et al., 2011, p. 28). Being anonymous also allows gamers to feel more comfortable with self-disclosing information about themselves and it is believed that over time they will gradually reveal more of their personality and opinions if they desire less superficial friendships (Heider & Massanari, 2014, p. 63). Indeed, almost 40 percent of gamers feel more comfortable using the online gaming platforms as an outlet to discuss serious and sensitive topics with other gamers than they do discussing these topics with friends and family in their offline life (Sundberg, 2018, p. 106; Griffiths et al., 2011, p. 26). Given some individuals can talk to other online gamers about their offline lives, it is plausible that their communication can form bonds that could lead to friendship.

In a study of over 900 gamers, it was found that approximately 75 percent of gamers had a friend they had met through online gaming. (Sundberg, 2018, p. 106; Griffiths et al., 2011, p. 26). This is a rather large percentage of the gamers sampled and does present hope for the possibility of online gaming friendships. Developing online friendships can be enjoyable for gamers, especially those looking to create new online friendships, and it is possible for these online friendships to transform into an offline friendship (Griffiths et al., 2011, p. 21; Domahidi et al., 2014, p. 113). It is believed that by sharing the experiences within the game, online gaming helps form and maintain new friendships but it also provides the potential to get to know these online gaming friends outside of the game in and possibly even in an offline environment (Kowert et al., 2014, p. 448; Domahidi et al., 2014, pp. 109-110). Ghuman and Griffiths (2012, p. 14 & 26) even believe gamers who play RPGs are likely to make good friends in the game and meet them in an offline setting, sometimes even in small groups, however, they are unlikely to meet up to play the game while in the same vicinity. One study found that almost 43 percent met online friends in offline situations, though females are more likely to than males (Griffiths et al., 2011, p. 26).

While some may believe these friendships within online games are less valuable, it appears that it can actually help gamers to make more social connections (Domahidi et al., 2014, p. 107). Sundberg (2018, p. 109) found that gamers with a form of autism have more friends than non-gaming autistic individuals and that 40.5 percent of autistic gamers said they had met a close friend through online gaming. Stone et al. (2018, p. 15) also found in their research that individuals with autism benefitted from the support received when they initiated and sustained social interactions with other gamers online. This suggests that individuals who struggle in social settings offline, such as those with autism, may still have the opportunity to make social connections through online gaming.

There are believed to be benefits to these online to offline friendships as well as positive effects on existing friendships, such as gaining more social connections, strengthening friendships, learning about other cultures and the opportunity to work on teamwork (Domahidi et al., 2014, p. 113; Griffiths et al., 2011, p. 26 & 32). Indeed, while it may be believed by some individuals that by playing social online games they would be socially isolating themselves in their offline life, however, gamers have been known to include their friends and family in some of these games (Ghuman & Griffiths, 2012, p. 14). A study by Pew Research Centre found that 78 percent of online gamers surveyed felt closer with their existing offline friends and 52 percent even felt closer to other gamers they did not consider offline friends as a result of playing together in online gaming worlds (Lenhart et al., 2015). Gamers use the guild-structured games to maintain and potentially extend existing friendships by bringing offline friends into the game, (Domahidi et al., 2014, pp. 109-110)


Kowert et al. (2014, p. 448) stated that sharing the gaming experience helped develop new social relationships and maintain existing ones. Indeed, the finding of the 14 studies consulted for this paper all indicated that new friendships can be formed between gamers and existing friendships can be strengthened in online gaming environments. However, there are inconsistencies in the facts surrounding these findings.

Limitations of These Studies

A lot of the information for the studies discussed in this paper were obtained through self-reporting via surveys and interviews and, consequently, cannot be considered conclusive. Most of the studies also focused on limited age groups and locations and scarcely factored other potential influences such as ethnicity, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status, mental health factors which impact the reliability of the findings discussed in this paper.


The overall consensus from the previous studies consulted for this paper is that online gaming is a great potential platform for gamers to meet likeminded individuals and build friendships. It appears to provide a safe space for gamers to express themselves without the risk of being rejected in an offline setting. There is also the opportunity for individuals who struggle in social situations, such as those with some form of autism, to make connections with other gamers.

While meaningful friendships both solely in online gaming worlds and those that have transferred to offline friendships are possible, it should be noted that most of those players spend on average at least one whole day worth of time in the game each week and that those with less social interactions end up spending less time online (Ghuman & Griffiths, 2012, p. 27-28). Given this information, one potential avenue of further study could be to discover if there is any correlation between hours spent in the online gaming world and the number of friendships formed and how strong those friendships are.

It may also be beneficial to look more into the age groups of these friendships to determine if it is more of a potential for youth, young adults or more mature aged gamers or which age group are more likely to have the stronger bond with other online gamers. While looking into the influence of age, it could also be interesting to see if variables such as race, location, family situation, relationship status or socioeconomic status make any difference in the formation of online gaming friendships. While it may not deter a gamer from trying to form more social connections via online gaming nor encourage them to try, it would strengthen the studies regarding friendships formed in online gaming environments to have more information on surrounding these variables.

Another potential focus of further online gaming friendship studies would be to find if the online gaming world is beneficial to those suffering a form of mental health issue, such as depression or a stream of anxiety. This may not seem like an obvious connection, however, Sundberg (2018) mentioned thee online gaming environments being beneficial for individuals with an autistic spectrum disorder. One of the struggles for those with a form of autism is often regarding their lack of skills or comfort in social situations which is much like individuals suffering from some forms of mental health issues, such as social anxiety.

Continuing from the last suggestion, another area to look at would be what prompts individuals to actively seek out other online gamers to communicate with. For example, was there an offline life influence that pushed them to confide in someone in their online gaming worlds or maybe they could have hoped to develop a friendship with someone who has similar interests. There is also the possibility they may not have sought out individuals for potential friendships but have found themselves in situations where they are forming a bond with another online gamer. It could be interesting to discover why they decide to attempt transforming the online friendship into an offline friendship.


Bostan, B. (2009). Requirements analysis of presence: Insights from a RPG game. Computers in Entertainment, 7, 1-17.

Domahidi, E., Festl, R. & Quandt, T. (2014). To dwell among gamers: Investigating the relationship between social online game use and gaming-related friendships. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 107-115.

Ghuman, D. & Griffiths, M. (2012). A Cross-Genre Study of Online Gaming: Player Demographics, Motivation for Play, and Social Interactions Among Players. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2(1), 13-29.

Griffiths, M.D., Hussain, Z., Grüsser, S.M., Thalemann, R., Cole, H., Davies, M.N.O. & Chappell, D. (2011). Social Interactions in Online Gaming. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 1(4), 20-36.

Heider, D. & Massanari, A. (2010). Friendship, Closeness and Disclosure in Second Life. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2(3), 61-74.

Kowert, R., Domahidi, E. & Quandt, T. (2014). The Relationship Between Online Video Game Involvement and Gaming-Related Friendships Among Emotionally Sensitive Individuals. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(7), 447-453.

Lee, C., Hsu, S.H, & Chang, J. (2013). Factors influencing sociability in educational MMORPGs – a fuzzy AHP approach. Internet Research, 23(3), 298-315.

Lenhart, A., Smith, A., Anderson, M., Duggan, M., & Perrin, A. (2015). Teens, Technology and Friendships. Retrieved from

Linares, K., Subrahmanyam, K. & Cheng, R. (2011). A Second Life Within Second Life: Are VirtualWorld Users Creating New Selves and New Lives? International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 1(3), 50-71.

Schultz, E. (2015). Digital buddies: Teens prefer to make and keep friendships online rather than offline – study. RT. Retrieved from

Stone, B.G., Mills, K.A., & Saggers, A. (2018). Online multiplayer games for the social interactions of children with autism spectrum disorder: a resource for inclusive education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1, 1-20.

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

Tang, T.Y., Man, LC.Y., Hang, C.P., Cheuk, L.S., Kwong, C.W., Chi, Y.C., Fai, H.K. & Kam, S. (2008). A Study of Interaction Patterns and Awareness Design Elements in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. International Journal of Computer Games Technology, 1, 1-8.

Trepte, S., Reinecke, L. & Juechems, K. (2012). The social side of gaming: How playing online computer games creates online and offline social support. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 832-839.

14 thoughts on “Friendships Formed and Strengthened in Online Gaming Environments

  1. Hi Amy, the virtual reality online gaming sites you mention are a great third place for socialisation. I agree that online gaming can present opportunities for friendship beyond the game itself, but the potentialities are limited by the same constraints and issues that exist in offline situations, like personality, interest, and other intangibles. Also, activities shared and experienced generally enhance friendships. The online gaming environment does, however, seem to be somewhat one dimensional or singular in that connections are based on the game, and there is no opportunity for spontaneity like popping down to the local coffee shop to chat, or heading out for a surf, or drinks at the local tavern for a laugh, or even a bike ride, particularly in circumstances where there are geographic barriers, which is often the case. Therefore, I see friendship developing in a rather compartmentalised fashion due to time, geography, physicality and other constraints. I may be quite naïve as to gaming-related friendships, but want to hear more from you about this, as it is quite an interesting phenomenon. Regards, Alice.

    1. Hi Alice,

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

      I agree that the gaming worlds do not provide the same interaction that physical catch ups do and I personally agree that there will always be limitations to online friendships becoming offline ones, such as geography, personalities and other interests. However, I believe it depends on the individuals desire to meet each other outside of the gaming worlds and that it is the variables that can show which are the real friendships and which are just online friendships or acquaintances.

      I suppose the reason I have this opinion is because I have met people in online environments, got along with them brilliantly online and then later met them offline. There are some that live close to me but in offline situations we did not get along as well as we did online and then there are others that live further away but we have become great friends who travel to see each other in person whenever possible.

      It is because of my personal experience that I believe there is not going to be a study that 100% proves or disproves that friendships can be formed through any online medium then become offline friendships as it is always going to depend on a large number of variables in all the individuals involved.

      Kind regards,

      1. Thanks so much Amy for that elaboration and for including your personal experiences of friendship or otherwise as a product of online gaming. That was interesting – first hand impressions always are. I agree with you that there are many variables involved in developing friendship and I believe there are many degrees of friendship as well, whether online or offline. The important thing is there is opportunity and potential for friendship, and in your paper, you have more than established that reality exists in online gaming environments. Of course, what people make of such opportunities depends entirely on them.

        Anyway, I believe that friendship can happen in the strangest of circumstances, so I’m not a doubter that friendships can be formed in online gaming, or other cyberspaces for that matter. Cheers, Alice.

        PS: Hasn’t this conference been great!

        1. Hi again Alice,

          All of my closest friendships started in what some would call strange ways and I think those strange ways is actually what strengthened our friendships so I definitely agree with you. Also, I too think this conference has been a great experience!


  2. Hello Amy,

    As an avid gamer that has developed many friendships over the years, and as a parent that has watched her son develop friendships through games, I found myself nodding in agreement with your paper’s conclusion. The friendships I’ve made online have seeped into real life, with real meetups and the continued sharing of life via social media long after we’ve moved on from specific games.
    I recently watched a documentary about a group of boys that have been friends online for years and finally met and went on a 15-day train trip around Europe. I highly recommend it, as it puts real names and faces to the debate about whether friendships developed within gaming communities are ‘real’ friendships.
    BBC Three. 2018. “Just Boys IRL: 5 Gamers Go Interrailing”.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper.

      It is great that you and your son have developed lasting friendships through online environments and thank you for sharing the documentary about the boys. I do believe there are struggles to meeting your online friends in offline situations and it seemed that 15-day trip around Europe was stressful for those boys, especially with their mental health struggles, but I was glad that they remained friends.

      Kind regards,

  3. Hi Amy.
    I found your article to be quite interesting, but I would argue that establishing online, virtual relationships are somewhat less ‘real’ than a physical one. An example of such notion is playing online games, whereby players can become involved in ‘virtual’ relationships.
    ‘Fortnite’ is currently one of the most commonly played games across the world. Gamers basically invite both friends and strangers to add them to their team and hence new relationships can become established relatively easily. So in this case, an advantage of online gaming is that it allows the rapid development of a relationship between one or more people.
    Lu, Sang, Chen, Xu & Mei, T. (2017, p2) have discussed how people maintain their offline relationships through online services. They also stated that the rapid advent of online social networks have completely changed the way people connect and interact with each other. They also added that establishing online friendships may lead to offline friendships in the physical world.
    I also agree with you when you pointed out that people who established and play social online games would be socially isolated in their own physical world.

    Lu, D., Sang, J., Chen, Z., Xu, M., & Mei, T. (2017). Who Are Your Real Friends: Analyzing and Distinguishing Between Offline and Online Friendships From Social Multimedia Data. IEEE Transactions on Multimedia, 19(6), 1299-1313. doi:10.1109/TMM.2016.2646181

    1. Hi Ali,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and thank you for your comments.

      I understand where you are coming from in regards to ‘virtual’ relationships, though I personally feel that friendships are different to romantic relationships, if that is indeed what you are referring to. It is my personal opinion that romantic relationships cannot exist solely online as they require physical intimacy. I suppose the same could be said of friendships, as I do find my relationships stronger with online friends I meet up with offline regularly compared to the ones I do not see in offline settings often or at all. However, I do still consider online friendships to be ‘real’ as it is still possible to talk to them about offline topics and interests outside of the game or other online community we are in, but that is a personal viewpoint and I understand why others would disagree.

      As for social isolation, I believe this depends on how much time the gamer is spending in the gaming worlds versus the time they spend offline. While I have not looked into related research, I also believe this goes for other forms of online communications, such as social media. I have known people who spend a lot of their time at a computer or on a device posting on social media but have little to no offline relationships and I also know skilled gamers who have plenty of meaningful offline relationships. I really do believe it depends on the individuals involved.

      Kind regards,

  4. Hi Amy,

    Firstly, this is a very well written paper, to which I found myself in agreement with. I touch on it in my own paper, and I find it interesting to see mention of it here, that online gaming can be used by those with mental health issues a means to communicate in a non face-to-face manner. This is one of the great things about online gaming, in that it can be more than just entertainment. With game development creating worlds in which people can log into and populate with other users, communities can form and friendships as well as those users interact regularly through the online game.

    I would, however, like to touch on a previous comment of yours where you say “I do find my relationships stronger with online friends I meet up with offline regularly compared to the ones I do not see in offline settings often or at all.”

    I think this could be dependent on how people communicate once they are out of the game setting. For instance, I have formed friendships with people in Sweden, we have gamed together, and I have met them in-person. However, to keep the friendship bond from dwindling due to geography we chat online outside of in-game environments.

    By this, I would state that perhaps if people keep their friendship closely tied to only interacting and communicating within a game environment, then the bond may be harder to maintain. And even though in many instances meeting up offline is not always possible, using other platforms such as social media or game-related platforms such as Steam to communicate via text or voice chat, then perhaps the bond is more easily maintained by not relying upon having to be logged into the game environment to continue friendship ties.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on this.

    – Nathan

    1. Hi Nathan,

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

      I do agree that long distance friendships have the potential to be stronger if there is also communication outside the gaming worlds. I think those who take their friendships out of the online gaming would have better chances of having stronger relationships than those who are strictly in-game friends. I personally have added a few to Facebook and/or exchanged numbers and talk to them regularly even when I am away from the worlds I met them in and am much closer to them.

      Kind regards,

      1. Hi Amy,

        So given that you have taken some of your friendships etc out of the gaming world, would you say that those that keep their friendship within the gaming world have a greater potential for a breakdown in communication over time?

        By this I mean, we are in an age where even those that we do have on Facebook we do not necessarily communicate with them on a daily basis, however, those that are heavily invested in a game may be more inclined to log into the game at the same time daily and consume the game for entertainment as well as a means to interact with their friends.

        – Nathan

        1. Hi again Nathan,

          I think it depends on how dedicated the gamer is to the game and their game-world friends. Yes, some may be encouraged to log into the game-worlds to communicate with their game-exclusive friends. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to dedicate to gaming like I once did so I only talk to the people I catch up with in person or talk to on the phone, though that is just my personal experience. Everyone’s experience with online friendships will be different depending on the individuals involved.

          Kind regards,

  5. Hi Amy,

    Great job on this paper. It is fascinating to see how much of a positive role online gaming environments can have on the formation of friendships and how these settings can help sustain them, something I explore in my paper as well.

    We did have some similar arguments in how users who can perhaps struggle with social interaction in the real-world can find some comfort in the virtual space. Furthermore, the statistic you mentioned of 40% of gamers preferring to disclosure their thoughts on sensitive topics online is quite sobering, given that you could draw an assumption that a significant portion of users that meet online have never met in real-life. I thought 40% was a fascinatingly high statistic but due to the ability of having a somewhat anyonymous online presence perhaps this allows them to safely share potentially polarising thoughts that they don’t feel comfortable disclosing in the real-world.

    It’s intruiging to think how much of a role the virtual worlds play on the level of socialization that occurs, the correlation between a more deeply-ingrosing world such as an MMORPG and the level of communication required against more casual jump-in and jump-out games that entail a much lower requirement for teamwork by game-mediated communication. The closing of your paper is a great statement that makes me think that all the tools for users to migrate their friendship(s) to the offline world are ready and available, but what determining factors dictate which relationships transcend from the virtual realm into the real world.

    1. Hi Patrick,

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

      I too thought 40% was rather high, but I do believe it is the anonymity is what help people open up about problems they do not feel they can share with people in their offline world. I do think that the tools to facilitate online to offline friendships are available to us, it just depends on the individuals, what they are willing to do and how well they get along offline that will determine the success of the transition.

      Kind regards,

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