Study finds online gamers aren't antisocial basement dwellers

After observing the behaviors of thousands of gamers, with a focus on "massively multiplayer online role-playing games" such as World of Warcraft, researchers conclude that loners are the outliers, not the norm.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

online gaming
Researchers say online gaming expands, not reduces, gamers' social lives. Nick Taylor

In an announcement that likely won't surprise gamers themselves, researchers who analyzed the behaviors of thousands of online gamers -- mostly those playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft -- found that loners are the outliers, not the norm, and that online gaming can actually enhance one's social life.

Reporting in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, researchers at North Carolina State University, York University, and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology say they traveled to more than 20 gaming events in Canada and the UK that ranged from 20-player events in bars to 2,500-player competitions in convention centers. After observing thousands of gamers in these settings, the researchers conducted an in-depth survey with nearly 400 of them.

The researchers were looking for how these players communicated with others in both their online and offline worlds, and found that instead of eliminating social interactions, online gaming supplemented them. They say players weren't just gaming, they were watching other games, talking, drinking, and chatting online.

"Gamers aren't the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes; they're highly social people," Dr. Nick Taylor, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of the study, said in a school news release. "This won't be a surprise to the gaming community, but it's worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm."

Of course, Dr. Taylor and his team were observing gamers in social settings, not in their basements, and they don't explain how they chose the gamers they surveyed more closely, but it's possible that -- intentionally or not -- they surveyed people who were simply more social and willing to be, you know, surveyed.

Still, at the very least the researchers established that, at least in social gaming settings outside the confines of our dark basements, players are socially engaged, and on several levels. Whether those players are outliers or the norm, and what percentage of their gaming time is spent at social events versus in the privacy of their own homes, seem to be matters for future study.