Loneliness is a horrible and pervasive thing. Without realizing it, the feelings it creates can slip into your everyday existence and turn everything that was once colorful into shades of grey. The saddest thing about it is that it’s a difficult feeling to escape from. If you’ve no friends nearby then it’s easy to start feeling as though you are all on your own, but there are some surprising things that can help. One of these things is gaming. Gaming makes the news for all kinds of reasons, but one of the most common in recent months has been its ability to solve loneliness. All over the world people have been logging into games and playing with friends both from real life and online, creating communities of gamers that truly can change people’s lives for the better. Here’s how it works.

What the Science Says

It’s always good to start to unpick a topic as abstract as loneliness with some demonstrable claims. Loneliness can feel like a deeply personal experience, but in actual fact, we all experience it similarly. The good news is that it has been proven that games can help. For example, those who play massive multiplayer online games, or MMPOGs, report a series of qualities in themselves that we should all be aiming for. A stronger sense of social identity is the most prominently reported, which simply means that gamers understand themselves better and feel happy about how they fit into society, both within small friendship circles and in the world at large. Players of MMPOGs also report higher levels of self-esteem than the average person, a quality that can otherwise take months of self-improvement work, even with the help of a professional.  Finally, players of these games also self-report decreased feelings of loneliness compared to the general population. This is likely because these games generally encourage players to work together towards a common goal. Working in this way is a simple way of creating a sense of camaraderie between people, similar to those team-building days you have at work!

Enabling Real-Life Connections

Caption: A simple headset can help to reconnect old friends

One of the simplest ways that gaming can combat loneliness is by enabling real-life friends to meet up online. Someone might have moved away for work, started at a new college, or taken on an unsociable shift pattern, and all of these things can inhibit their ability to hang out with their friendship group. Being able to play a multiplayer game with people you already know isn’t only fun because of the gameplay itself, but it’s also great for just ‘hanging out’. Headsets with microphones and speakers enable us to chat away to the people we love as we game, having both the important conversations and the silly ones. Although some experts refer to this as passive communication, even if we aren’t devoting our whole attention to our social circle, isn’t passive communication better than none at all?

Creating Friendships Everywhere

The idea of being social whilst gaming has been adopted by many different games providers including this online casino where interaction with other players is actively encouraged. Whilst some online games cater primarily to friendship groups that already exist, sites like this one encourage new friendships to form. For some people, the only interaction they might get in their day is a quick chat with the cashier at the supermarket or a bit of small talk with the croupier at the casino. Sites that foster these small everyday interactions help to combat the loneliness that people who live isolated lives might feel. Some games give serious perks to those who are able to work in teams, making the need to socialize necessary to progress in the game. Although some argue that this sort of interaction can feel forced, and perhaps it might do at first, often real-life interaction can be difficult too. Making friends in adult life is more difficult than it used to be because we’re aware of social norms, we have developed self-consciousness. Having a reason to get to know people – to allow you to get further in the game – is a brilliant ice-breaker that could pave the way for meaningful friendships.

Bringing People Together

Gamers vary enormously in terms of fanaticism, but some really do take their love of gaming to extremes. Although only a minority of gamers attend conventions and cosplay, for those that do, this is usually a deeply important part of their lives.  Finding your tribe can be difficult at times, but these conventions bring together huge swathes of the population that all enjoy exactly the same thing. Walking down the street it would be almost impossible to spot someone who was fanatical about the same game as you, yet at a cosplay convention, you might both be dressed up as the same character. Although to people who don’t cosplay it can seem a little strange, events like these are just like going to see your favorite band or football team. Being surrounded by people like you can not only help to foster real-life friendships, but it can also help people feel less alone just from the experience of being there. Learning that there are lots of people similar to yourself is incredibly comforting for us humans; after all we are social animals.

Embracing and Exploring It

Finally, some games have taken a different approach entirely, openly exploring loneliness. They create narratives that are easy for players to understand and can help them to appreciate their situation from a different point of view. People who experience loneliness can often feel a sense of shame attached to it, so the chance to explore loneliness from a separate point of view can help them realize that those feelings of shame aren’t justified. It takes a brave games developer to create a title about something people are so frightened of, but Loneliness has tackled it. This game takes a minimalistic approach to loneliness, asking players to explore the idea in a top-down way. Although it’s only interacting with other squares, breaking down intense feelings into abstract concepts helps us to understand them more clearly. Loneliness, and other games like it, could be instrumental in getting us to take control of our own social lives and own our most difficult feelings.

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