Individuals who play World of Warcraft experience less social anxiety and loneliness when playing online than they do in the real world, according to a November 2015 study published in Computers in Human Behavior.
World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), a specific genre of computer games. In MMORPGs, players must cooperate with other players online in order to complete tasks and achieve goals. The important social aspect of MMORPGs is what makes them unique.
“The most important aspect of MMORPG games is not the playing itself, but the ability to form strong friendships, in which players are often highly emotionally invested,” said Marcel Martoncik, principal investigator and corresponding author for the study.
“Therefore, many people use MMORPGs to meet their social needs, which they are unable to satisfy in real world,” Martoncik continued.
But do MMORPG players actually experience less loneliness and social anxiety while playing than they do in the real world?
One hundred sixty one participants were recruited via World of Warcraft message boards. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire addressing loneliness, social anxiety, game experience and game behaviors. They completed the same questionnaire twice—once they were asked to imagine the real world, and the other time they were asked to imagine the virtual World of Warcraft.
Participants experienced significantly less social anxiety and loneliness in the virtual world than in the real world. In addition, players who belong to a guild or who regularly play with friends and family members experience significantly less loneliness than those who regularly play alone. Players who regularly communicate with other players online also experience less loneliness.
The results may be due to the fact that MMORPG players feel safer and more comfortable in the virtual world.
“Online environment provides players, who are often anxious, with a space, in which they can form and experience high-quality relationships, which satisfy their need to belong,” Martoncik said.
The findings could point to possible explanations for the mental and social well-being of MMORPG players.
“Players may not feel accepted in…company of people who do not play or approve of computer games…this rejection may cause social anxiety, and compounded by the lack of friends, with whom they could share their interests, also loneliness,” said Martoncik.
“Players, unable to find satisfying social contacts in real world, thus turn to virtual world; and in this way, they not only experience less loneliness, but by being accepted in online world, also less social anxiety,” he continued.