04. Wellness

The Impact of Online Games on Social Behavior

July 22, 2020

There are numerous studies, and debates on the effects of online games on people’s social behaviors. This multitude of research claims that these games play a larger role in a person’s social life, apart from serving as a medium for entertainment, online games included. Their respective studies are designed to provide insight to those social effects, whether good or bad. And in this article, we’re going to check some of them out. So let's take a deep dive into on the impact of online games on social behaviors!

Origins of Online Gaming

Video games initially emerged as an alternative form of entertainment in the past. Whether it was to compete against a friend over high scores, or simply show off complicated combos in a fighting game, both are meant to pass the time, and enjoy interacting with friends. As time passed by, and technology evolved, so did video games. They became more complex, adapted to better graphics, and showed resemblance, if not hints, of realism.

This branched out into numerous genres, each serving its own purpose, and catering to specific niches. One of those branches is online games, which serves not only as a means to entertain oneself, but also a communication hub, where people from all over the world can interact in a single, virtual world.

Impact on the Human Mind

Contrary to common opinion and a lot of coverage in the media, gaming has been found scientifically to deliver a number of cognitive and psychological benefits. Some of these findings have been summarized by neuroscientists Daphne Bavelier and Jane McGonigal at key TED talks. The effects can vary depending on the type of game, for example 1st person shooters, like Call Of Duty, are known to be more beneficial than more casual online games, such as Minecraft  Here we will break down what some of those specific benefits can be.

Spatial Awareness

Studies claim that playing online games have great influences on the players’ minds. Researchers claim that one of the things players benefit from online gaming is the improvement of their visual to spatial skill, or most commonly known as spatial awareness.

Spatial awareness is a person’s ability to become aware of objects in a certain space, in relation to the body’s position. It is a natural perception ability that allows a person to react to the objects within the environment. One good example of spatial awareness is the ability of a baby to recognize the fact that when they move towards an object, said object is moving towards them. Then the initial reaction of the toddler will be to reach for it when it is in arm’s reach.

Playing online games can improve one’s spatial awareness ability as game-play requires gamers to be reactive towards the game’s virtual environment, often looking out for traps, moving enemies, and surprise attacks. Even players taking on a support role are heavily focused on the health bar of their party members, and should be able to quickly react to it at a moment’s notice.

Researchers have done some cognitive tests on gamers, and non-gamers and have come to the conclusion that gamers tend to track multiple objects at once, and much faster than their non-gamer brethrens. They also found out that gamers can be quick to cancel out unnecessary objects in their environment, and focus more on the objective at hand. They also show more efficiency in switching from one task to another, also known as attentional flexibility.

Visual Analysis Skills

There are also studies claiming that online gamers have better visual analysis skills, and have more efficient problem solving skills by analyzing the environment. Researchers believe that these improvements are directly related to the intense mental activity that is related to players focusing their visual attention in the game’s environment, as well as suppressing distraction.

However there are little studies to show that playing online games have anything to do with having higher IQs, or how it could directly affect a person’s academic performance. And yet, schools are gradually using games as a means to educate children. It is rumored that it has something to do with children being attracted to a game’s visual effects, and engaging environment as opposed to the usual teaching methods.

Mental Health

Apart from innovative teaching methods, online games are being looked at as a possible solution to mental health problems such as improving the reading ability of dyslexic children, as these games have shown signs of greatly improving a player’s visual attention skill. Another is to treat people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or (PTSD), as there were also signs that playing war based first-person shooters are familiar environments for soldiers suffering from the said psychological disorder. Despite these implications, online games are not all fun, and with games, for every good thing, there is always the risk of a undesired effects.

Impact on Aggression

Other researchers claim that online games can also have negative impacts on players, especially those that are perceived as violent in nature, and often affect how players interact in real life. First-person shooter online games, action RPG games, horror games are often perceived as violent games. Studies relating to violence in games often make assessments that center on controlled and uncontrolled behaviors, more commonly known in the research field as internalized and externalized problems respectively.

Internalized vs. Externalized Behavioral Problems

Internalized problems pertain to behavioral problems such as anxiety, and depression, while externalized behavioral problems pertain to hyperactivity, and uncontrolled aggressive behaviors. How these behavioral problems impact players depend on the type of games players often spend their time with.

For example, playing games that are in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games genre, or MMORPG can lead to an increase in internalized behavioral problems such as depression or self-isolation. This may come from the emotion that they have better chances of forming relationships in MMORPGs, than in real life. So some players tend to isolate themselves from the real world, choosing then to satisfy their social needs inside a game. This is a common issue in Japan whereas some of their citizens, particularly males, often hide themselves from actual social contact, and would rather stay at home, and play games. Japan has coined these people as hikikomori.

On the other hand, playing first-person shooter games such as Doom, or violent action RPG games like God of War can create external behavior problems, especially in teens. This is made under the impression that the violent, and aggressive scenes of such games will affect a player’s mind to test the scenarios in real life. Researchers have also concluded that high levels of realism in violent games, or the more their visuals resemble real life aesthetics, the higher the chance players will exhibit aggressive behaviors.

But there are researchers who argue that there is no solid evidence that correlates violent video games, and aggressive behaviors. Often citing that majority of the people who displayed violent behaviors in real life have little to do with playing video games. There are also studies that claim most criminals often express their violent tendencies in the form of writing in journals, or take inspirations from books they’ve read.

Parents however are still concerned about the existence of violence in games, and how easy it is for their children who are still minors can access it. Although video game companies are taking measures to ensure that these games do not fall into the hands of less mature audiences. Regardless of the debate on whether online games do actually impact violent, or self-isolating behaviors, one can always agree that these games have brought people closer, and have formed another means of socialization.

Impact on Socialization

Phantasy Star Online 2 North America

It is no secret that one of the many popular features of online games is its ability to connect with people around the world over the internet. No matter how far a friend can be, the distance could always be closed-in with just a login from the computer. It has combined two mediums, namely entertainment, and communication. Studies show that people who play online games, like MMORPGs tend to easily get along with strangers, as their social interaction in-game allows them to be aware of other people’s culture.

Opposed to some studies, there are people who exhibit great social skills that they acquired inside an online game, as these people, if found out they are in the same location, would often plan meet-ups, and partake in social activities, much like any normal person. There are also scenarios where intimate relationships were formed inside an online game, and end up in real-life marriages. People often perceive online gamers as very sociable people, and easy to get along with.

Studies believe that this is because of the nature of some MMORPGs that promote teamwork in order to achieve tasks, or accomplish goals. As opposed to single player games that would have only one player accomplish the challenges. There are also large raid missions present in popular MMORPGs that require four to sixteen players to be huddled up in one dungeon in an attempt to conquer it, these forces players who are mostly strangers in real life to communicate, finding common ground in trying to achieve the task at hand.

Whether good or bad, we can be sure that online games have been a huge part of the digital age, and that they can play a positive role in shaping a person’s personality, or social capability. And as online games continue to evolve, and their massive library continues to grow, like in the Steam Store, or in other gaming sites. We can be sure that online games will continue to have an impact on our social behaviors.

About 'Nash'

Nash is an article writer for the pop culture website Otakultura and a frequent contributor for Games.lol. He is an avid gamer, an experienced writer and a video editor.

If you are interested the competitive dimension of gaming, then also checkout our eSports blog special.

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