The stereotype has existed since the earliest MUD’s, online gamers are lonely anti-social geeks that sit in dark rooms staring at their computer screens. A study conducted in the UK, and to be published in the United States in the U.S. Journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, begs to differ:
Having been a player in the early MUD’s and MOO’s, and also in most of the major MMO’s of the past ten years, I can definitely attest to the fact that real friendships and bonds are formed in these virtual worlds between players. I would even go as far as to say that many of these people who form long term friendships might never have met and become friends in real life, either due to geographic distance or physical barriers that usually separate people in real life.
In these virtual worlds you meet on a level playing field. An extreme example would be someone with a severe handicap that might be passed by or ignored in a real life social setting, but can blend in and be quite popular in a virtual world. The joke goes “In these worlds everyone is in their 20’s and in top physical form”. With everyone wearing their ideal avatar form, the real person can shine through and often overcome their real world shyness. Once you have made a connection on a mental non-physical level, when you eventually do meet the person in real life their real world physical person has little influence on your future friendship.
The same holds true for the opposite. There are many stories of popular or famous people slipping online in these games to escape the spotlight of their real lives. Other examples are of younger players who are mature for their age that end up leading guilds or being valuable members of a guild. Recently even elderly players have entered these worlds to increase their social contact with others, and flex their hand eye coordination and mental skills. Age, physical appearance, and social standings in real life do not follow a player into these virtual worlds. Another recent phenomenon is multigenerational online playing. I know several people who have reconnected with relatives and others who regularly play with their children who are off at college.
As highlighted in this story:
“”This study has revealed many aspects of MMORPGs that were not known before. Previous research has suggested that gamers are socially inactive, but MMORPGs are actually extremely social games, with high percentages of gamers making life-long friends and even partners,” commented Professor Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences. “As well as making good friends online, 81% of gamers play with real-life friends and family, suggesting MMORPGs are by no means an asocial activity, nor are the players socially introverted.”
“The virtual world that these games offer, allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, age, or other factors,” he added. “They also offer a place where teamwork, encouragement and fun can all be experienced.””