Online gaming network communication dynamics, depressive symptoms, and social support: a longitudinal network analysis


Video games are becoming part of everyday life for Americans despite public health concerns for social isolation and depressive symptoms (DS). Preliminary studies show gamers may be compensating for a lack of in-real-life (IRL) support with online connections. This study uses longitudinal social network analysis to investigate the social structure of an online gaming site and how factors such as social support, sense of community, and DS relate to communication dynamics. Members (n=40) of an online gaming site reported online and IRL support, sense of community, DS, and usernames of other members whom they spoke to about important life matters. Results suggest IRL and online social support, sense of community, and DS significantly influenced changes in the online gaming network structure over time. These results are especially timely given the social isolation and mental health impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic suggesting that online connectivity could be a remedy during times of socially isolation. Exploring how to healthfully build these online connections through gaming may be an avenue for greater social support when IRL social support is not present.

Sociological Focus