Developing friendships and social support through online gaming: A mixed methods analysis of online gaming network communication


Video games are a popular hobby despite associations with social isolation and depression. However, some games offer avenues to connect with others through bridging and bonding social capital which provide social support and improve mental health. Virtually mediated social connections are particularly important during times of social distancing. This study examined an online gaming community discussant network through social network analysis mixed methods. Participants (n=40) recruited from an online gaming site reported depressive symptoms (PHQ-9), online and in-real-life (IRL) social support, and site members with whom they discussed important life matters. Participants also completed “free response” items where they reported topics of conversation most often and most recently discussed with other members, as well as the reason they chose to speak to a site member. Quadratic assignment procedure multiple regression analysis determined significant associations between social support (online and IRL), network structure, and depressive symptoms. Inductive qualitative analysis was used to analyze free-response items with a focus on identifying bridging and bonding capital present within online connections. Depressive symptoms were significantly associated with online (β=0.39) and IRL social support (β=-0.44). Online social support was significantly associated with depressive symptoms (β=0.21), IRL social support (β=0.55), and network structural factors. Topics of conversation reported by members most often were bridging capital topics (e.g., mutual interests, current events), while topics reported by members in their most recent conversation were more personal and could be construed as bonding capital (e.g., personal relationships, stressors). When asked why they chose to talk to a site member, many members mentioned bonding social capital concepts (e.g., trust and built relationship. Building online relationships to provide bonding social capital could supply buffering effects for those feeling socially isolated during social distancing.

North American Social Network Conference 2021
Produced Online