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The Sociology of Gaming: An Examination of Online Gaming Communities and Their Influence on Social Interaction

www.youthincmag.com | October 23, 2023

What was once a favourite pastime for a certain age group of children, teenagers, and young adults has now evolved into a billion-dollar industry that boasts millions of ‘community members’, annual cosplay events, and international competitions. It is estimated that there are currently about 3 billion active gamers in the world, with 50% of these being from the Asian region. This ever-expanding interest in online gaming has resulted in the emergence of online gaming communities, with the membership of the largest communities on Discord comprising over 10 lakh members and other chat-based gaming communities crossing over a million individuals. As these online gaming communities expand, exploring the psycho-social aspects of these social groups in the online space can offer a better understanding of the world of gamers.

Categories of Online Gaming Communities

While ‘community’ is the generic term used for social groups of online gamers, there are three categories of groups based on their aims and objectives: collectives, families, and communities. Collectives can be understood as individuals or small groups of individuals who follow a certain game and spend time in the online space to achieve their own objectives. Gaming families are more closely knit groups wherein members play and strive together in pursuit of common goals. Communities, on the other hand, are safe spaces that comprise a wide range of members, ranging from beginners and novices to expert gamers. Communities emerge and develop with the aim of making the gaming experience pleasurable for all followers of the game, and the platform offers amateurs the chance to learn the tricks and techniques of better gameplay from the more accomplished members of the community.

Motivation of Community Members

As a social unit, members of the online gaming community seek to fulfil a variety of needs through their membership. The motivation to join and be an active member of an online gaming community can range from merely informal to purely professional. One may use such platforms to make new friends and build their social networks. Amateur gamers would seek tips and suggestions on improving their gameplay from more advanced gamers. Celebrity gamers would use these platforms to connect with their fans, build their fan following, and even offer professional training for a particular game or related skills. Irrespective of the exact motivational need operating for a particular member at that particular stage of membership, one can summarize these motivational needs as social or interpersonal needs.

The Cons of Gaming Communities

The traditional view assumed that online gaming offered a fertile ground for individuals with poor real-life social connections and poor social self-esteem issues to connect with people in a virtual space and experience the joy of belonging while avoiding the challenges of face-to-face interpersonal relationships. There is abundant literature on the ill effects of gaming addiction. For instance, according to the substitution hypothesis, pseudo- and one-sided relationships offer social experiences without the risk of rejection and eliminate the need for good social skills. Applying this to online gamers, individuals who struggle to form meaningful real-life relationships may instead bond with celebrity gamers in online gaming communities as a compensatory mechanism. On the other hand, studies on online gaming addiction suggest that gamers are expected to experience loneliness and use games as an escape from real life. Moreover, the time spent on gaming consequently leads to poorer interpersonal relationships and poorer performance in academic or work roles.

The Pros of Gaming Communities

Contemporary studies have started highlighting the benefits of gaming, however. Like any other social media platform, online gaming communities provide members with the opportunity to connect with like-minded people across the globe. Especially for individuals with weaker social support systems in real life and a vulnerability to depression, such communities could provide an outlet for their emotions and help them garner some emotional support. A small-scale survey by Prof. Prochnow from Texas A&M University showed that some members of gaming communities felt comfortable discussing personal, emotional, and relatively sensitive topics with each other. Such conversations included discussions about stress, anxiety, and depression in the context of academics, jobs, relationships, etc. Online gaming platforms provide an environment in which members can confide in others in the community and share emotional experiences that they are unable to share with people in their real lives.

Following the Panksepp-Jakobson hypothesis, humans are wired to perceive and interact with media figures similarly to real people in their social environments. This does not mean people are unable to differentiate between reality and media; however, the same neural infrastructure that is used to process social relationships is also used when processing mediated or parasocial relationships, suggesting that the same psychological processes are involved in both parasocial and social experiences. In fact, many individuals display a good balance between real and online interpersonal relations and thus need not use online relationships as a substitute for real ones.

Online gaming communities thus present a new social world that mimics the real world to some extent, replacing it on some occasions and facilitating it on others.

This article has been authored by Prof. Sairaj M. Patki, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://youthincmag.com/the-sociology-of-gaming-an-examination-of-online-gaming-communities-and-their-influence-on-social-interaction )