Communities and Online Gaming

Despite claims that MMOs cause social isolation, they are actually third places that prevent loneliness and support people with mental health issues.


Online gaming communities can have a beneficial and lasting effect on the mental health of those that may be socially inept or encumbered by loneliness. It is easier for to socially interact with others that have similar interests and hobbies, MMO communities is a platform that these people converge. Additionally, the online identity of the player introduces a layer of anonymity; which in turn increases the ease for beneficial organic social interaction to occur.


Communities amongst hobbies are extremely important to keeping people engaged with other people. This is the same for hobbies in the real world, and the virtual. As internet connections improved, it became possible to play multiplayer video games online with other people on a global scale. The genre Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO for short) has the ability for hundreds of players to play at the same time with each other was profound and exciting. Naturally, these players formed sub-communities filled with players of similar interests to play together with to complete their goals within the games. The identity of the player is driven by the appearance of their online character or ‘avatar’. Each players ‘avatar’ is a part of their identity, it could be an extension of their real identity or it could be something completely separate and unrelated to themselves outside the online world. The players online identity can be seen as a vessel for their loneliness and desire to belong. Organic social interaction occurs amongst peers in these MMO sub-communities, just like with non-online communities. This is all assisted with text chat channels and voice chat channels supplied both in game and out of game with free to use applications like discord. As a result, those that may be socially awkward can benefit greatly from the impact caused by natural social interactions. Despite claims that MMOs cause social isolation, they are actually third places that prevent loneliness and support people with mental health issues.

What are Massively Multiplayer Online Game Communities?

Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games have been an increasingly popular genre in the online games market for the last decade or so. Their popularity can be credited to the increase in accessible high-speed internet across the world. Out of all of the emerging MMO games from the last two decades there is one that is a clear favorite in the genre, and that is the famous World of Warcraft. The formation of groups amongst players is required to complete difficult quests and dungeons. The kingpin of the games communities is the difficult content. Without hard content existing, giving a reason for players to team up; the communities would not be thriving. These communities inside the game are often called a guild or a clan. A guild or a clan is a sub-community that is entirely made by players inside the game. Players with similar goals form together inside a guild to complete content. Some guilds have more casual goals like having the intention to complete simple and easy goals, some are the exact opposite with more hardcore goals which rewards higher rewards.

MMO game worlds are persistent, meaning that they are online and available for the players 24/7 (Wells, 2019). The player base is filled with different people, each individual will have different goals. Many will want to complete and play through all of the difficult dungeon experiences available. For those that may not care for completing dungeons may have the goal of being the best ‘black-smith’ or having the most gold out of all players. In the case of World of Warcraft, there are many achievements a player can do alone, but often the difficult and content with desirable rewards requires a group to work together towards the same end goal. This is how players naturally form guilds. The investment of time of playing with the same players is beneficial for all involved. World of Warcraft also supports a feature called ‘Find a Community’. Find a Community allows players to join or create communities outside of their guilds, it is proven to be very useful for players who may want to complete goals that is outside of their guilds scope. (Wells, 2019)


The anonymity that one has online can-do wonders for mental health, it acts as a layer of protection covering up insecurities of the players. The player is not represented by themselves in the MMO game worlds, they are represented by an ‘avatar’ that they create to their own likings. The player’s avatars are not simply themselves superimposed; they are custom created to potentially be nothing like themselves. The players do not have to be themselves inside the game; an extremely appealing factor for those that may not be completely comfortable with themselves in the real world. Whether that character be an embellished version of themselves, or something that is not even of this world like an elf; it becomes the persona of the player. Even when in a group of 40 people together inside of a dungeon, nobody knows who you are, your ethnicity, your gender, or your age; your personal identity is completely anonymous in the game. The players avatar is what represents the player through all experiences they encounter, whether that be gameplay or social by nature. It does not matter what the players avatar looks like, everyone else in the online world sees your online name, and they associate that to your avatar, not the player themselves. The level of immersion the player experiences is often directly impacted by their avatar (Milik, 2017). A part of the identity of the player is not just what your character looks like, factors like how they play and who they play with contribute to the players identity. If you are a skilled player, you are not seen as the same as majority of players, you are seen an elite player. The same goes for if you play with a guild that are known to be very good amongst the other communities; simply having the name associated with you changes how other players look at you, it impacts your identity (Bacchini, Angelis, Fanara, 2017).  The quote by Bacchini et al., (2017), “The online identity can be considered a sort of extension of the real identity and not an “other” identity.” Refers to how the way adolescents and young adults often use online identities. They treat their online identity as an extension of themselves as it the anonymity online makes it a much more comfortable way to express themselves. They often frown upon others that alter their identity to present themselves in a way to make themselves appear more ideal. Studies by Bacchini et al., (2017) prove that a player’s personal commitment and involvement in the online world positively impacts the players online identity formation process, which in turn; improves their mental health.

Social interactions

The players engagement in the MMO world is not only the time spent in-game playing. Many hours are also spent socially interacting with their ‘guild’ members and on discussion boards like forums/reddit. When an in-game activity requires a group to complete a task, the best way to coordinate a time that is suitable for everyone involved to get on, is through message boards or applications like discord that is accessible on both mobile and desktop. High levels of trust are introduced through shared experiences between those in a group. As trust levels  increase, anonymity starts to feel less required; as a result, bonds and friendships transcend the game world, and real friendships form. Increasing the comfort level of socially inept men and women ultimately benefits them not only in the game, but also their important social skills in the real-life. (Kaye, Kowert, Quinn, 2017) states, “the activity of online chat itself has been found to be related to increases in self-esteem and perceived social support, and reductions in loneliness and depression”. This supports that the ease of socially interacting with others increases once the player opens up and becomes more comfortable with the guild/clan. It additionally supports that it is beneficial for those that lack self-esteem and are affected by loneliness or depression. This can be credited to socially awkward people having an effortless time engaging in social interactions alongside others with confirmed similar interests with the intention of completing a goal in-game that benefits them with not only a reward in the virtual world, but additionally with experiences that assists one become increasingly more competent at social engagements in real-life. (Kaye et al., 2017)

Many people claim that MMO’s cause social isolation, but to the contrary; MMO games create situations that require social interactions. To some it may be very uncomfortable to socially interact in the real world; however, in the game world with their separate online identity it is much easier to be social. Those that are socially inept prefer to meet and hang out with friends online rather than out at the shops; this is due to feeling unsafe and less welcome in the real world, but safe while anonymous online (Lokša & Martončik, 2016). Anonymity is a significant factor that motivates people to communicate with others in an online environment like an MMO game. “The virtual environment allows people to express themselves in a way that would otherwise be unpleasant in real world (e.g. because of their appearance, sexuality, etc.), which makes social contact much easier and comfortable thanks to a certain degree of anonymity” by (Lokša & Martončik, 2016), puts it into words how the players visceral fear of social interactions can be lessened in the virtual world. Increased contact with others online in gameplay that requires social interactions conditions the player into being more comfortable in real-life social situations.

Fighting against loneliness

The core of fighting against loneliness is friendships. As friendships form, the feelings of needing to belong drift away. Lokša and Martončik’s (2016) study found that up to two thirds of gamers form strong lasting friendships with others they encounter in the game world. In the same study, it was additionally found that one third of the same group of gamers has met up with friends they have met online in real-life. The only case where one would feel safe dropping their anonymity and meeting someone they have never met or seen in real-life is when a strong bond has formed between the players. For a non-negligible number of players, the communities in Massively Multiplayer Online Games is everything. Lokša’s and Martončik’s found that many players ranked their online relationships and bonds equally to those they encounter in real-life. Groups of people relying on each other to get the job done in the virtual world; positively enforces the upsides of socially interacting with fellow community members, this in addition, reflects how real-life social interactions can be equally positive (Lokša & Martončik, 2016).

Communities on MMOs prevent loneliness and supports those that have mental health issues. Loneliness is an emotion that nobody wants to experience. Those that experience it will feel inclined to access online communities in MMO games due to the natural social interactions involved. Being surrounded by like-minded people makes it easy for one to open up and feel like they are welcome. Opening up makes it increasingly simpler to form friendships and talk with others. Being helpful, willing, or skillful opens one up to being a desired community member to be around; results in the feelings of loneliness subsiding. (Lokša & Martončik, 2016)


To conclude, communities formed amongst online MMO players are beneficial and enhance the experience in more ways than just gameplay. The potential improvements to the mental health of those that interact socially online in MMO communities are crucial for assisting socially inept humans. The goals of the players can change dramatically as the players team up and become more capable working as a team. This is only possible due to the social interactions involved in MMO games, one man cannot complete the team raid experiences, one man with another twenty can. This increases the engagement of the players significantly as it feels like they are important to the cause of the group. The social aspects of massively multiplayer online games are more important than the enjoyment of the gameplay itself for most involved. The increase in accessibility of the internet does nothing but aid the high diversity of the people one can meet and play with amidst online communities or guilds/clans. Anonymity for some people is the only reason they are able to feel comfortable while participating in social interactions which is possible over the internet only. The players online identity can either be a representation of themselves, or it can be the exact opposite. Players that are uncomfortable with their real-life identity are able to embellish their online persona as it is unrelated to the real-life. The communications of the players are supplemented positively by applications like discord that serve has a hub for text and voice channels accessible by anyone with a phone or computer. Negative feelings of loneliness can be offset heavily by becoming accepted in a guild or community. It is clear that these sub-communities benefit socially inept players by providing experiences that can be directly transferred to real-life interactions. ‘Guilds’ being full of like-minded people results in natural social interactions that benefits all involved, resulting in improved social skills and mental health.


Bacchini, D., Angelis, G, D., Fanara, A. (2017). Identity formation in adolescent and emerging adult regular players of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). Computers in Human Behaviour, 73, 191-199.

Billieux, J., Linden, M, V., Achab, S., Khazaal, Y,. Paraskevopoulos, L,. Zullino, D., Thorens, G. (2013). Why do you play World of Warcraft? An in-depth exploration of self-reported motivation to play online and in-game behaviours in the virtual world of Azeroth. Computers in Human Behaviour, 29(1), 103-109.

Kaye, L. K., Kowert, R., Quinn, S. (2017). The role of social identity and online social capital on psychosocial outcomes in MMO players. Computers in Human Behaviour, 74, 215-223.

Martončik, M., Lokša, 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, 127-134.

Milik, O. (2017). Persona in MMO games: Constructing an Identity through Complex Player/Character Relationships. Persona Studies, 3(2), 66-78.

Poels, K., Ijsselsteijn, W. A., & de Kort, Y. (2015). World of Warcraft, the aftermath: How game elements transfer into perceptions, associations and (day)dreams in the everyday life of massively multiplayer online role-playing game players. New Media & Society, 17(7), 1137–1153.

Sourmelis, T., Ioannou, A., Zaphiris, P. (2017). Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and the 21st century skills: A comprehensive research review from 2010 to 2016. Computers in Human Behaviour, 67, 41-48.

Wells, R, E. (2019). What is an MMO?.

19 replies on “Despite claims that MMOs cause social isolation, they are actually third places that prevent loneliness and support people with mental health issues.”

Hello Stuart,
Good choice of topic. I think it would be really important to explore this focus more as people are becoming more entangled with digital media, so great work! I liked that you outlined that the communities were made of people with similar interests.
I enjoyed how you discussed identity in regards to choosing your avatar. This reminded me of a great source I recently read, called My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft–my-life-as-a-night-elf-priest-an-anthropological-account?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1
This book is a study of life on World of Warcraft, and talks about the different parts of the game in relation to critical theory.
I also love how you mentioned the practices of identity expression within the game! My paper mentions a lot about identity expression so I like that you touched on that in regards to forming a safe community.
I already mentioned this in my comment on Vanessa’s post, but I feel it relates more to yours. My father played WoW for many, many years, and I grew up watching him play. He had constructed a guild and talked to them during raids. As he has severe anxiety, I definitely believe that these connections and community would have helped him feel like he belonged, and given him friendships with these people from all over the globe. I do think that gaming can have a negative impact on your offline life vs online life requirements, but it helped him very positively as well.
I definitely agree with your point that online gaming can stave off loneliness in some ways.
Great work! I enjoyed the read.

Hi Anne-Marie, thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

I just finished reading through that source, very interesting; thanks for sharing it.

I completely agree that there are clear negatives to people who can be become completely consumed by online gaming that it deteriorates their real world social connections. In my opinion though, they dont outweigh the positives for many.

Im glad that a guild in WoW was able to help your dad with his anxiety.

I have a friend from a while back that had similar troubles, he has Asperger syndrome. It was quite jarring seeing the difference between him at school around peers, to him being rather outgoing in the online world. I completely credit it to his online identity being separate from real-life.

Thanks, Stuart.

Hey again Stuart!

You are most welcome!
Good to know. I also agree that there are many many positives of the connections and communities video games create! Do you think that video game companies should still try and implement more measures to prevent addictions? Such as sending out emails or asking players to re-evaluate how much they are playing? I know WoW sends out a non-intrusive message in the chat after awhile reminding the player to take a break.
Great to hear about your friend! Some people just thrive online!


Hi again Anne-Marie,

Many games I know of do try to suggest to its players that playing too much is a bad thing, and tries to do it in a way that isn’t too obtrusive to the game experience. Such as presenting them as tips in the loading screens, or like you mentioned; in a non-obtrusive chat message.

Interesting fact is that there is a law in South Korea about this exact topic. People under the age of 16 arent allowed to play games in the early hours of the morning.

Thanks, Stuart.

Hey again Stuart!
That’s really interesting about the law in South Korea! Definitely a great law to make it easier for parents to get their kids to school.
What I meant with my question was more that do you think video game companies should be more accountable for game addiction? Like of course some do implement measures to help, but do you think there should be more accountability?
Let me know

Hey Stuart,

I enjoyed the read and can definitely relate to the experiences that i had with World of Warcraft when i played from 2005-2009 starting with the original game, then with Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansion. I can understand the uniqueness of each game character however i had a Pally as main and Druid, Mage, Warlock as my alt characters playing smaller dungeon raids. Back in those days we used Ventrilo instead of Discord, but these days, i use Discord as well for voice chat. The game indeed does demand a lot of commitment from the player as i played end game content with 40 and 25 person raid one night a week. However, in between those times, we would gear up, obtain potions, play other characters.
I can understand the gaming quickly evolving into addiction and harm the real life social interaction, but a lot of my friends also play wow as well, and made friends online in wow as well including a meetup with Guild mates. To me it was a positive experience overall, but i can understand if people prioritise online social interaction and leave real world responsibility behind. And at times, i believe that playing Wow in free time is so much better than watching television, its the equivalent derivative to compare it to.

Hey Kim, Thanks for reading and commenting.

I definitely had the thought that I should of wrote about the clear negatives of becoming addicted to online gaming. But I choose to not do so as it not only goes against my statement, but I also personally believe the positives of potential mental health gain outweighs the negative for socially inept people.

I also agree that something like playing a MMO in spare time instead of watching TV is better, making friendships and bonds online during a period of free time, in my opinion, is much more productive than watching TV.

Thanks, Stuart.

Hi Stuart & Kim,

I really enjoyed this paper and your discussions around it. My paper was very closely related to this subject. Stuart, I think you did a really good job of explaining exactly how these communities help people who are socially inept to overcome their limitations and make friends.

In my paper I also explored how people with physical disabilities utilized these communities to be able to interact and engage with others online so that they don’t feel so trapped in their homes – you may want to head on over to my paper and have a read 😊

I think a lot of people choose to focus on the negatives and try and bring it back to addiction, but honestly – I’ve seen some really positive aspects to this as well, not only through the research for my own paper but also through reading your paper and others in this stream, so thank you for that.


Hi Stuart,

I’m not a gamer at all, so I read your piece as an interested outsider.
Online identity plays so many different roles in the ‘court of opinion’. It can be used successfully as you have outlined here via an Avatar to hide insecurities and social fears, it enables someone to escape and be ‘someone else’ or someone more ‘powerful’ because of their skill and knowledge of the game. As you point out, this can be a real bonus for those with mental health challenges, or those who are simply shy. It can also, of course, be used in other areas of social media for sinister purpose, to hide a predatory intention, which is why social media often gets a bad reputation.

Everyone needs social interaction in some form, and for many, online games would be a way of developing friendships they would otherwise struggle to nurture, I think you have argued that very successfully here.

I see friendship as a very positive outcome of online gaming – my concerns would be more around addiction and eye health/physical fitness. I know as a person who works full time on computers and then uses them extensively for study and also enjoys social media interaction and has an online blog – I spend an awful lot of time in front of a screen – it’s a balancing act to make sure we include the ‘real world’ in our daily routine as well.


Thanks for reading Leanne!

While I personally think mental health is more important than physical, I agree that some balance between the two needs to be achieved. It is important to not be completely consumed by the online world and to keep a resemblance of a social life in the real world.

I personally have had eye-issues in the past after spending a great amount of time in front of a screen and the importance of having a break is very clear.

Thanks for the comment, Stuart.

Hi Stuart,

I think that you have nailed your narrative on the positives arising from the virtual relationships in the gaming world, especially for socially challenged members of the community.

I agree that when communities cast aside prejudice and adopt the “all are equal” attitude, society is the major beneficiary of the positive results.

Are there any bad bits of behaviour these communities are grappling with that if they could solve, would make for an even better community? If any, how are they tackling them?

Well done! 😊


Hi Bayayi,

Thanks for the kind comments.

For some people the best part of the online communities is anonymity. For some others it could be the worst part. As being anonymous is essentially being hidden online, some take that as a means to cyber bully without repercussions. Toxicity and cyber bullying is always going to be the most horrible aspect of the online world.

The best way communities battle against cyber bullying is with player reporting systems that are moderated by the developers and sometimes even automated punishment systems that filter through words someone has sent as messages in game and automatically chat restrict/ban them.

Thanks, Stuart.

Hello Stuart, thank you for your coverage of the positives of online gaming, as it tends to be generally portrayed quite negatively in the traditional mass media. It would seem that MMO’s are particularly suited in this area due to the inherent role-play aspects which allow for the player to have a much greater ability to experiment with their identity in a safe environment. Would you agree that players’ ability to engage with others on their own terms could also be significant? I found your point on the conditioning aspect and trasferability of online interactions was particularly pertinent and found and interesting paper on the mapping problem of identity (between virtual and irl) for the purposes of experimental study ( I also found the paper on virtual worlds for the purposes of education to be of interest. MMO’s do seem to be inherently social games, perhaps the stigma against that comes from their being associated with traditional, single-player RPG’s? You covered MMO’s in your paper, but I am curious as to your thoughts/experiences on the social and community building aspects of other online genres? On the mental/physical health point, I think they have a reciprocal relationship, with each potentially affecting the other greatly, and as such it is important to make efforts to maintain and improve both, although I do understand that many people and time-poor and the majority do not enjoy exercise. Once again, thank you for your important contribution to the conference, I’m glad to see there has been coverage on mental health issues, which are too often overlooked.

Hi Talep,

I do agree that the players’ ability to engage with others on their own terms is quite significant. Whether it is credited to the anonymity of their online identity or to something else like simply being around other people online with an identical hobby; it is an amazing thing.

I think the social and community aspects of other online game genres can be just a good as those found in MMOs. From personal experiences, my younger brother in his teen years used to play a ton of a online FPS game called Team Fortress 2. He spent most of his time when on the game in the same server with a bunch of random other online gamers. As weeks went on the regulars on the server recognize each other more and more and friendships/bonds form. Nobody knew each other prior to joining the server; yet a community and friendships was still born from it.

Thanks, Stuart.

Hi Stuart,

Excellent read, I really enjoyed it.
You made some great points about anonymity and how it can help people who struggle with social interactions.
Do you think that these online interactions would give the person enough confidence to attempt interactions in real life?


Hey Zlatan,

Thanks for reading.

I do agree that social interactions online facilitate the ability for one to imitate it in a real world scenario. While face-to-face may be a little harder for someone that is socially inept, I think if one can hold a conversation online then it should serve as a confidence boost towards doing the same thing in the real world.

Thanks, Stuart.

Hey Stuart,

I appreciate that you took the time to explain exactly what an “MMO” game is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I know that the MMO genre can be oversaturated and some games that commonly fall under that category aren’t accurate representations of MMO’s. Secondly, I myself haven’t played an MMO game and having a solid visual to refer to was incredibly helpful in reading your paper.

I fully agree with the point you made about anonymity online, and the effects it can have on a player’s mental health. I would like your perspective on whether you think the anonymity of an online avatar can be used negatively to influence others within the digital space.

Enjoyable read!


Hi Stuart.

Fantastic Paper, I agree with the point you made throughout the paper that online gaming is sort of a haven for many gamers and benefits their mental health. Especially during the current events this year I think online gaming is an incredibly useful tool for many to get through the year.

Cheers, Lleyton.

Hi Duncan,

I found this paper to be very well written and convincing, your discussion on the beneficial effects of online gaming are well researched and presented throughout. I especially like the way you presented the argument about an ‘online idenitity introducing a layer of anonymity’ which eases social interaction. I talked about a similar theory in my own conference paper and I’m glad to see that others agree with my stance on MMORPG addiction.

Regards, Jacob

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