Purpose: Video games are becoming part of everyday life for most 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.
Methods: 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 in May 2019 and again in March 2020. Separable temporal exponential random graph models (STERGMs) were used to model changes in the network over time. STERGMs determine significant factors associated with the presence, formation, and dissolution of social connections over time.
Results: Members were significantly more likely to send more communication ties over time if they reported lower IRL support (PE=-0.52, SE=0.18), reported more online support (PE=0.44, SE=0.16), and reported fewer depressive symptoms (PE=-0.06, SE=0.02). Further, members who reported more IRL support were significantly more likely to dissolve outgoing communication ties over time (PE=-0.06, SE=0.02).
Conclusions: Online gaming provides a unique opportunity for individuals to connect and communicate. Examining the impact of this communication on feelings of support and depressive symptoms is increasingly important as the popularity of gaming increases. These results are especially timely given the social isolation and mental health impacts related to COVID-19 pandemic: suggesting that online connectivity could be a remedy during this more socially isolating time.