69 - Video games Can Help Create Friendships and Improve People's Levels of Depression

Some people view playing video games as an isolated activity that worsens loneliness and depression, while others view playing video game as a social activity that can improve depression.

The fact that online video game players do not need to be physically next to each other should not reflect upon the valuable relationships that can arise out of online gaming.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) typically require many players to work together on a team to complete multiple challenges concurrently. Because of the intensive teamwork and communication needed, players often develop strong friendships with "just under half of all gamers (45.6%) [believing] their online friends to be comparable to their real-life friends," according to a study by the Department of Social Sciences in Nottingham Trent University.

Online Friendships Often Lead to Face-To-Face Friendships

Another explanation for why games cultivate friendships is that online games can provide a safe space for players to express and to discuss intimate personal issues. Without fear of being judged by characteristics like their physical appearance, gender, or age, almost two-fifths of gamers in the pre-mentioned study reported to have discussed with their online gaming friends sensitive topics "that they would not have discussed with their real-life friends." Consequently, 55.4% of females and 37.6% of males in the study reported to have met up face-to-face with friends they made online.

Adolescents in Environments That Lack Frequent Social Interaction Have Higher Levels of Depression

Instead of definitively trying to conclude whether video games are helpful or harmful to adolescents, a recent study conducted by the Department of Sociology in Ewha Womans University attempted to answer whether playing video games could impact every adolescent and their level of depression differently depending on the adolescent's "neighborhood quality," which they measured by the proportion of college graduates and the divorce rate in the neighborhood. 

The researchers gathered a group of 2,351 first-year middle school, South Korean students and then surveyed that same group of students over a 5-year period from 2010 to 2014. Because some students dropped out of school and for other reasons for which students could not be located throughout the study, only two years, 2011 and 2012, of data were used.

Using a revised version of the Center for Epidemioligic Studies Depression Scale Revised (CESD-R), researchers used student's self-reported answers to questions asking them to rate their health on a scale of 1 to 4, to behavioral questions asking whether they skip school, are bullied, or use drugs, and to other questions in order to calculate their depression "score" or level of depression. 

Researchers hypothesized that adolescents living in a community with high divorce rates would experience a greater level of depression, regardless if they played video games themselves and regardless of their own parent's marital status. In addition, they had a set of conflicting hypotheses for whether playing video games would improve or worsen adolescent's levels of depression, believing that it could do either. 

Playing Video Games Can Improve the Mental Health of Those Adolescents Who Live in Isolated Communities

What the study found was that playing video games did not have a statistically significant effect on adolescent depression scores. The study also found that when adolescents lived in a community with high divorce rates, they were more likely to experience a greater level of depression.
Lastly, researchers found that adolescents who both lived in an environment with high divorce rates and played video games actually had lower depression scores than the average, baseline score among all adolescents. In other words, the more divorce rates a community has, the more likely an adolescent living in that community can benefit in mental health from playing video games.

The researchers believed that this was because in communities with high divorce rates, adolescents likely lacked the social support that "often serves as a buffer that eases the negative consequences of mental health problems." However, for adolescents who lived in those communities and who sought video games, playing video games became very much a social activity and improved their levels of depression. It should be noted though that because this study used student's self-reported answers to calculate depression scores, the validity of this study can and should be further discussed by other experts.

Playing Video Games Can Have Either Positive or Negative effects on an Individual, Depending on Their Reasons for Playing

People's motivations for playing a game are significantly related to the game's effects on the player. According to a study done by the Department of Communication at Stanford University, there seems to be three general components for people wanting to play video games: achievement, social, and immersion. Achievement involves advancing in games and competing with others, being social involves working with others and forming meaningful bonds, and immersion involves role-playing and learning something new, oftentimes, about a fantasy world.

One individual may want to play a video game solely to beat others and to feel a sense of accomplishment while another individual may instead want to play that same video game to enjoy time with friends. Therefore, a single video game could potentially have two very different effects on two different people.

Instead of trying to definitively answer whether video games are beneficial or detrimental to people, it may be more constructive to study the different effects that video games can have on people with different motivations to play. Video games may not improve everyone's mental health, but evidence does seem to show that they can improve some people's mental health.

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