The potential effects of video games on mental health has been a long-drawn-out debate. Some people argue that relaxing with a video game has positive impacts on an individual, while others fear that video games can be addictive and promote negative mood changes.
A new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Sociological Focus, has sort out to answer this heated debate.
How did the researchers find the answer?
The research team analyzed members of an online football simulation gaming site.
In the simulation, players play as a head coach of a football team. The players compete against one another to have the most successful team. The game also allows for communication between competing players.
The players were surveyed at the beginning and end of each game's season for a period of 10 months.
37 players responded before playing the game, 40 responded after playing the game and 30 responded both before and after.
The surveys included questions on depressive symptoms and abilities to communicate personal issues. The players were also asked to list how many people in real life and online they spoke to about things impacting them.
“We wanted to showcase the community building and informal relationships built through these online settings,” Dr. Tyler Prochnow from the Department of Health Behavior at Texas A&M University’s School of Public Health said. “Many people feel a sense of community, support, and comfort through online gaming, and I think we need to do a better job measuring these connections and fostering them to improve mental health in today’s digital age.”
What did the research find?
The researchers found that the size and quality of a social network directly impacted depressive episodes. Online social networks enabled people to find support in coping with their problems.
Players without a strong real-life social network were also more likely to use the online network for support. Players in this situation were also more likely to spend a long time online.
Additionally, the researchers found that a sense of community, and the presence of depressive episodes, could alter the social structure of the group over time.
It is worth noting that the study was based on one type of non-violent video game, and thus the findings cannot be applied as a general rule.