Online gaming has been on the rise of late and I for one am happy for it. The fact that virtual worlds are enabling people to get together in different ways is beneficial to just about anyone however more so for shy individuals with social anxieties. I believe that most shy gamers prefer online social interactions over real life situations, use online social environments to establish and maintain relationships, and that the creation of such environments should not be taboo because of any social stigmas that are present. Online virtual worlds are enabling shy individuals, such as me, to socialize who would otherwise shy away from any social interactions that would lead them towards isolation.
Like me, most “shy individuals prefer online spaces because they offer them more control over social interactions” (Kasumovic, 2014, para. 12). A virtual avatar gives a person a sense of security that they would otherwise not have on their own. The security and control provided are enabling shy individuals to socialize and engage with others. Users have the ability to interact with others on their own terms and comfort levels and if the situation ever becomes awkward, or an anxiety overcomes the user, the user has the ability to end the interaction with a click of a button. The end results are users socializing with an online community instead of being isolated due to social anxieties.
Along with an environment to engage the community and create lasting friendships, an online virtual world allows individuals to maintain those friendships. In his article, Kasumovic (2014) states that “shy gamers are using online social environments to establish and maintain their friendships in a manner that is comfortable for them” (para. 14). In my personal experience, I have been able to maintain close relationships with old friends in which we only get together and socialize in a virtual world and seldom have the opportunity to meet in real life. Our lives have driven us to other sides of the world and left us with basically two options; cut ties altogether or find a medium in which our friendship can still prosper. Online gaming provided us with an answer as it did with countless other gamers throughout the world. Not only are gamers making lifelong friends online, some are even finding love in the same virtual worlds. Rosenbloom (2011) summarized it best by stating:
And while it may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, more people are likely to meet this way as the genre (known as massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs) continues to grow. With more than 12 million subscribers, World of Warcraft is one of the most popular games of its kind in the world (others include EverQuest, Aion, Guild Wars). That’s a sizable dating pool.Match.com, by way of comparison, has fewer than 2 million subscribers (para. 8).
Making friends is hard enough as it is, but if you compound that fact with social anxieties, it becomes nearly impossible to meet new people and create lasting relationships. Without online virtual worlds many shy individuals would lose meaningful relationships.
Even though online gaming has been beneficial for so many, it still carries a social stigma. Kasumovic (2014) scratch the surface of a social stigma by stating how some in society view “online time as a life squandered” however never discussed the stigma in his article (para. 14). From experience, I can say that I am often hiding the fact that I play online games such as MMORPGs, and I am not alone. J. Arnott (2009) discussed how many gamers keep their gaming habits hidden from friends and co-workers in his article “To come out as a gamer is still to risk looking a social n00b.” The reality is that a lot of people in society view gamers as antisocial nerds who are living in their mother’s basement throughout their adult life. The stigma is forcing gamers who already suffer from social anxieties into isolation as it drives another wedge into the perceived social norm. Luckily, as gamers escape into their online virtual world they are already surrounded by people who they already have one thing in common in which they can strike up a conversation; their game of choice. The social isolation felt by being a gamer does not exist in the virtual world they share.
Society needs to get rid of its stigma towards gamers. Gamers are not seeking social isolation and are just as social as anyone else; the only difference is in the manner in which we, as gamers, decide to socialize. Just because something is different from what is considered the norm does not make it wrong or a waste of time. Online gaming is helping combat social isolation by providing a safe environment for individuals with social anxieties to come together as a community and support one another. To that I say: “Game On!”
Arnott, J. (2009, October 21). To come out as a gamer is still to risk looking a social n00b. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/oct/21/video-game-stigma
Kasumovic, M. (2014, August 15). Gamer disclaimer: virtual worlds can be as fulfilling as real life [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://theevolvedgamer.com/gamer-disclaimer-virtual-worlds-can-be-as-fulfilling-as-real-life/
Rosenbloom, S. (2011, April 22). It’s love at first kill. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/24/fashion/24avatar.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0