3 min read

Are World of WarCraft players less lonely & socially anxious?

Are World of WarCraft players less lonely & socially anxious?

Welcome to a new episode of GamingScience.

Today, we're discussing how playing World of Warcraft (or MMORPG games in general) can make you experience less loneliness and social anxiety. You will learn through which mechanism this is achieved, and which factors play a role in it. I will also outline some potential downsides to it.

• WoW is a comfortable environment for players
• In WoW, players can satisfy their social needs
• WoW players indeed experience less loneliness and social anxiety
• They do social activities in-game with friends and guild members
Video games should be a tool to learn to engage in social activities
Escaping the real world playing video games can have downsides

🌌 A safe space

As the gaming industry has grown, so has World of Warcraft. The game is estimated to have over a million players each day and over 100 million players in total. The game is created to mimic parts of the real world, making it immersive for players and mirroring real-life behavior or allowing them to act out new ones.

"[MMORPG games] are places where people fall in love, get married, elect governors, attend poetry readings, start a pharmaceutical business, and even commit genocide. Whatever MMORPGs are, or will become, one thing is clear. They are not just games [1]”.

In MMORPG games, and World of Warcraft more specifically, the social aspect is crucial. Sure, you could play it by yourself without ever interacting with anyone, but that's rather hard. What's more realistic is that you will engage with other players to do raids, complete quests, trade, play PvP, etc. Over time, you will likely add people to your friend list and get closer, meaning you'll interact more often with them. You may also join a guild, meeting new people to work on common goals.

Interactions of this kind online can replace your social needs that you'd otherwise seek offline. Furthermore, the fact that online environments, such as WoW, are basically anonymous probably makes it easier for some of us to engage in more socially open behavior.

This was found to be the case for loneliness [2, 3]. For lonely individuals, MMORPGs are an ideal social space to satisfy their social needs. Though not yet demonstrated, it is assumed that the same might be the case for people experiencing social anxiety (e.g., in the form of shyness), as MMORPGs provide a more comfortable environment and allow for social activities, as well as easier communication and the forming of friendships [4].

"[...] therefore we assume that players experience less loneliness and social anxiety in online world than in real world [4]."
Subscribe for more Gaming & Esports Science, and Industry Insides.

🏁 Results

"The results of the study support the hypothesis that World of Warcraft players experience less loneliness and social anxiety in online world [4]."

Now, the reason why this is is the increase in the degree of social activity. This has three aspects:

  1. playing with people you know (from online or offline),
  2. playing with guild members (e.g., raiding, questing, or PvP), and
  3. communicating with other players.

🤔 Implications

As pointed out earlier, MMORPGs (and WoW more specifically) provide a great environment for people experiencing loneliness and social anxiety. It can help them engage in more pro-social activities, leading to a reduced sense of loneliness and social anxiety. Though, "WoW thus becomes an ideal online environment for forming relationships and communication with other people [4]," there are downsides to this.

If you use WoW, or for that sake any other MMORPG game, to become more comfortable and engage in pro-social activities online to learn – that's great. Especially when you start playing with people you already know offline, it appears to be a good way to reinforce your friendship.

On the contrary, engaging in playing video games to hide or escape the real world (we've discussed escapism as a motivation to play video games) can be problematic. Such problems may include becoming addicted to playing or increased sedentary behavior leading to less physical movement and health problems down the road. Another aspect I'd like to stress is that when something becomes 'easy,' humans tend not to go back to the harder thing. In our case, playing WoW to easily satisfy your social needs probably makes it harder in the future to engage with people in real life.

I tell you all of this to stress the point that engaging in playing video games to "solve" the problem of loneliness and social anxiety long term probably is the wrong approach. I rather suggest "using" video games as a tool to learn, get comfortable first, and then apply what was learned to the real world.

Follow me on X for more Gaming & Esports Science, and industry Insides.
Leave a follow on LinkedIn


📜 References

[1] Yee, 2006
[2] Leung, 2011
[3] Morahan-Martin, & Schumacher, 2003
[4] Martoncik, & Loksa, 2016

📬 Subscribe to Gaming Science

Become smarter in just 5 minutes; trusted by 200+ (🤯) readers .

Sign up for 'Gaming Science', where we explore the latest science on gaming and
esports, as well as industry insides every Sunday, for free, and directly into your inbox.

"I love this type of conten, thank you Chris."

Find me and 'Gaming Science' on: