Introduction: Based on an industry report from the Entertainment Software Association, over 65% of Americans play some form of video game daily. Many public health professionals are concerned with online gaming’s effects on mental health, citing greater risk for depressive symptoms and reduced real life social involvement. However, online gaming may offer some level of social connectivity. In fact, over 55% of frequent gamers agreed gaming helped them connect with friends. Young adults may also use online games to compensate for pre-existing in-person social difficulties. One way to investigate the relationship between social connections and health outcomes is through social network analysis (SNA).
Methods: This study uses an online gaming site to conduct a SNA. All active members on the site (n=101) were invited to participate in the whole network analysis. Participants (n=37) were asked to report demographics such as age, race, education, marital status, employment, and the amount of time they spent on the site. Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Social support was measured and divided into support from “in-real-life” (IRL) friends and online friend support. Members were also asked to nominate members of the online community with whom they spoke to about important life matters. Moran’s I was used to determine spatial autocorrelation of depressive symptoms and IRL support. Exponential random graph modeling was used to determine the parameters that were significantly associated with tie presence between members.
Results: Members were significantly more likely to reach out and speak to other members about important life matters if they reported more site hours, more depressive symptoms, and less IRL support. Depressive symptoms, IRL support, and site hours were not significantly spatially autocorrelated within this network, meaning none were concentrated in a certain area or clustered within the network.
Conclusions: In this network, members who felt lower social support were more likely to reach out to others online. While this result is only cross-sectional, it may suggest members are filling an IRL social support deficit with friends they have met online. Additionally, members who reported more depressive symptoms may be seeking help from informal online connections through online gaming.