World of Warcraft may improve social competence
In stark contrast to common stereotypes that cast gamers - and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gamers in particular - as socially inept and lonely, researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands have found that teenage World of Warcraft players are no more or less socially competent or lonely than other teenagers.
In fact, the research - published this month in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology - suggests that playing WoW can actually increase social competency and reduce loneliness.
The first part of the study used self report questionnaires to measure the social capability and loneliness of samples of adolescents who play WoW and those who do not, and - perhaps surprisingly - found no significant differences between the groups.
The second part of the study assessed the indirect impact of playing WoW on those measures by way of mediating factors, by comparing the time participants reported they spent on WoW and their questionnaire answers.
The results here are potentially the most interesting, because the researchers found that time spent on WoW was actually linked to higher levels of social ability and reduced loneliness, due largely to the diversity of social interactions when physical boundaries are no longer a factor.
The paper also suggests that the game's mechanics being largely built around group content give players more opportunity to practice social skills, as opposed to the common belief that teenagers are missing out on this important development when they spend a lot of time in online spaces.
Previous research on the issue of social ability and internet use has garnered mixed results, but the Tilburg researchers say this is due to earlier studies looking at the online environment as a whole, rather than assessing the unique qualities of individual applications.