Study: Teen gamers have as many friends as those not into video games

UPPSALA, Sweden — Anyone who thinks gamers are introverted geeks are just plain wrong. While it may seem that teen video gamers these days spend way too much time in front of their TVs, new research shows they’re just as well-off socially as those who don’t play video games.

Researchers from Uppsala University found that shared interest in gaming can actually create bonds in young people as strong as any other social force.

Person playing video game
Gamers pegged as socially awkward are getting a bad rap. A new study finds that teens who play video games regularly have just as many friends as peers who aren’t into gaming. (Photo by John Sting on Unsplash)

The authors distributed questionnaires to 115 first-year students at high school in a major Swedish city where video game-playing is widespread. Questions centered on what the teens felt defined a friendship, how they socialized with others inside and outside of school, leisure activities they participated in, and their thoughts on various cultural issues like gender equality and immigration. The students were required to fill out the surveys during three different times over the school year.

They found that students who self-identified as gamers or those who said they spent much of free time playing video games did not have fewer friends than classmates who weren’t into gaming. Gamers, instead, tended to befriend one another and thrived socially because of their like-mindedness.

“The results are both surprising and expected. Sure enough, we thought ‘gamers’ would turn out to be making friends with one another. Gaming is such an important part of today’s youth culture that anything else would be odd,” says co-author Lina Eklund in a university release. “Just as adolescents used to get together through shared music tastes, so gaming is now a key element in media consumption. On the other hand, we weren’t so sure whether players would prove to be less sociable, or thus have fewer friends at school. Here, the previous research is limited.”

In a separate study, the researchers also conducted 10 in-depth interviews with students from the same sample that was surveyed and focused on how their social networks were constructed, along with how they changed during the course of their first year in school.

The participants indicated that how much time they spend playing games has no bearing on their ability to make friends, and that being a gamer didn’t make them less popular or isolated in school. The students indicated they were managing their time spent gaming so that they could also prioritize other interest, such as sports, hanging out with friends, and of course, schoolwork.

The first study, “Do adolescent gamers make friends offline? Identity and friendship formation in school,” was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The second study, Digital Gaming and Young People’s Friendships: A Mixed Methods Study of Time Use and Gaming in School,” was published in YOUNG: Nordic Journal of Youth Research.