Alone in the Dark
Tracy King challenges the lonely gamer stereotype, particularly when online gaming is so popular
Tracy King takes on the stereotype of the lonely gamer.
Some of them even had Warcraftthemed weddings
re you lonely? Those words could be the opening to an agony aunt column, some terrible dating advice or hokey self-help. But it isn’t. It’s the opening to a piece that genuinely questions whether gamers are lonely and, possibly more importantly, whether that’s a worthwhile question to ask.
One of the reasons gamer tropes are heavily associated with loneliness is that gamers can appear to be socially isolated. Headset on, door closed. Punchlines heavily rely on the stereotype of basement-dwelling, socially inept nerds.
The stereotype is sometimes even true, but even when it’s untrue its existence speaks to a strange superiority of hobbies; that going to the pub or playing football with friends is somehow better than gaming.
It’s an attitude that essentially places physical – face to face – interaction above virtual interaction. I sometimes forget that most people don’t have friends they only know online, let alone friends they only know inside a virtual world, but culture is littered with incredible stories of gaming friendships having real-world impacts.
Even Cosmopolitan magazine noticed, and in 2016, it ran a sweet story about married couples who met in World of Warcraft. Some of them even had WoW-themed weddings. There are true stories of lives being saved by online gaming communities, from attempted suicides to house fires.
We must be sure to get our cause and effect straight here too. There’s a world of difference between gaming causing social isolation, and socially isolated people seeking out gaming. Certainly, in my teens I was in the latter category, well before online gaming existed. Had I been able to play – anonymously or not – with other real people, I would have felt considerably less isolated. Gaming was a niche hobby then, yet the stereotypes
Apersist now it’s mainstream. In May, a new study claimed to put the stereotypes to bed at last. ‘Research breaks stereotype of “lonely” online gamers,’ said the headlines.
Edge Hill University’s press release claimed, ‘Research has revealed that contrary to popular belief, online gamers are socially competent, have high self-esteem and aren’t lonely and isolated.’ Well, duh. You can’t perform very well in an online game if you aren’t socially competent, funnily enough – it doesn’t make for a particularly effective raid.
A total of 780 MMO gamers were interviewed – 67 per cent were male, with an average age of 29 (that itself suggests higher social competence, as most people have developed a few conversation skills by that age).
The study was, of course, self-report, meaning respondents could theoretically have said anything without it being true, but there isn’t another way to find out what people think, so as long as the sample size is very large (it is), it’s pretty much okay – it’s unlikely 780 people conspired to skew the data. Some studies have correlated online gaming (usually MMOs) with loneliness, although a similar 2013 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology looked specifically at WoW players and found they weren’t at all lonely. The new study correlates MMOs with increased self- esteem and decreased loneliness.
That all represents a potential change in perception of gamers, but it also suggests that gamers are aging out of loneliness and this new, confident gamer is simply the product of a generational shift that’s been brewing for a few years, as MMOs have increased in popularity and communication tools have improved. If you’re feeling a little lonesome, the obvious fix is to jump online and talk to other gamers.