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What Are You Really Getting Out Of Playing Those Video Games?

Written by: Heather Bryant Ph.D., LPC, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Have you ever played a game? It would be a challenging task to find someone who hasn’t played a game of some sort. What about a video game? They are not everyone’s cup of tea – but they are for many people. Today there is a lot of video game playing potential in our pockets as developers produce games for our phones at an exponential rate.

What are you really getting out of playing those video games? I have an idea. More than that, I have a theory. It’s based on six years of doctoral candidate research, monitored by a dissertation committee, which developed into a grounded theory based on the gathered data that answers that question. Research shows that massively multiplayer online role-playing games are becoming increasingly popular, and they also have a reputation in research for having controversial consequences.

This is applicable for entrepreneurs, coaches, therapists, teachers – anyone working with others who could benefit from learning how people process and implement skills. More than understanding the experience a person has with the game, it addresses how we as professionals provide an experience that facilitates a process for them to gain skills that transverse our programs and services into their everyday lives when they leave our offices or courses. Read on, and I’ll share more details of my study and considerations for how it could apply, along with a few words from the participants so you can catch a glimpse into their insight.

From 2014 to 2020, I researched how adults who play online video games experience their online and offline social interactions. My research concentrated on the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (WoW), as it was the longest-running MMORPG at the time – and a game that I was familiar with. I desired to discover and clarify the underlying variables leading to the differences in gameplay consequences, primarily whether it resulted in a source of stress relief and community or a time suck and deteriorating social outlets. The findings indicate that players experience both positive and negative experiences during gameplay, but the impact variance comes from curating their community in the game environment. In short, the impact doesn’t have much to do with the game and more to do with their interactions with the people in the game.

Games, in general, are often approached in research as being either good or bad, with positive or negative consequences. This led me to consider games from a broader perspective – both good and bad and interactions both in and out of the game. I worked in-depth with a small group of 10 people, ages 26-51, who had all played World of Warcraft for a minimum of 11 years. Their ages when they started playing were 11-40 years old, and some started playing the beta version of the game before its launch). You can see at the extremities, from ages 11-26 and 40-51, and everywhere in between, people grow up playing this game and have families and retire playing this game. They experience life while experiencing the game, and the two are not independent. I gathered data on their experiences and perspectives on this phenomenon and its impact on their lives. They described their interactions in the game as similar to other online interactions, except that they collaborate with their peers to complete objectives in the game. The bulk of the presenting data connected how these experiences of collaborating with peers transcend the game and impact players in their physical lives through meaningful relationships.

Games are growing in popularity and becoming more accepted. I heard a statistic at a conference a couple of weeks ago that 72% of gamers are over 18 years old, and there are more gamers over 50 years old than under 18 years old. Elizabeth describes the shift in game popularity, stating that “I feel it’s become more an accepted thing, or maybe I’m just around people who are a little more adult about it these days. But there’s not really any differences… I mean you, would gather with your friends, maybe you’re gathering at a dungeon, maybe you’re gathering at a bar. You’re on somebody’s couch, or you’re in front of a great dragon. And you’re there to do something together.”

I’d like to mention the things participants encountered that negatively impacted gameplay. The most significant impact was the interactions; however, they presented variables that influenced their interactions that are important to note. The convenience of logging on and being immediately around people is great as long as the people are supportive, but that is not always the case anywhere. Every participant mentioned some form of moderation of time, environment, or player contact to curate their gameplay environment. In addition, moderating time spent in gameplay was also a concern for many. They reiterated a need to balance and prioritize the necessary things first.

  • Regarding time spent in the game, Jason clarifies that “anybody who’s a dedicated player or leader in a progressive guild… You have to show up two or three times a week at the same time every week… It’s a big sacrifice to be a raider. It can make your work life difficult, your home life difficult, and your social life difficult… When you consider there is a ten-hour a week commitment that’s not paying you anything.”

  • Sofia comments on detrimental gameplay, saying that “a unique thing to MMORPGs that can, if you deal with crap every day because you work in a crap job, you’re out of shape, or whatever reason you have, and feel bad about yourself. In Warcraft, none of those things apply at all. It’s just your ability at the game and your dedication to it that matters. And so, you can see why it creates this psychotomy between your real-life and digital life. In your digital life, you’re awesome and whatever you want to be, while in your real life, you may not feel that you are. And so, you seek to spend as much time in your digital life as you can. That would be a real danger that I’ve seen.”

  • Clayton describes the game as providing a disconnect from his real-life where “I had a social net… regardless of where I lived, where I worked, and that made it all the easier… I would say that they provide a series of friends, social experiences, and that are disconnected from your real-world life.”

  • Amanda speaks into how she uses the game as an escape saying, “It’s a lot of fun to jump into that sort of long-standing identity I’ve had in the game, and just be able to joke around and have a good time for a few hours a night on a weekday…there may be a smaller group of people that I have genuine interactions with and that’s just because we have a history… We’re able to communicate effectively, and even sometimes, when things are serious, crack a joke. That goes a long way to just maintaining, like, a respectful and happy interaction.”

There is a process of curating a community of social support described by the data in four phases: meeting others, communicating with others while engaging in activities together, developing friendships that are maintained over time, and bonding through challenges that lead to friendships that impact their daily life. Clayton describes the process of developing relationships as “taking the time to build these groups and go out and overcome these things.” Timothy speaks into how he knows other players online as “playing with the same people for so long, is, it means we understand one another’s demeanors, and attitudes, and the tones that we use… I think having that established familiarity is important.” As for the quality of friendships, Daniel says, “the biggest influence for my experience in WoW has been the people that I play with… I met my [spouse] through WoW; I have a few friends I’ve known for ten or more years.”

In a broader sense, their gameplay creates a curated social network online that facilitates the growth and bonding of their friendships not based on proximity. Through their gameplay, players choose whom they want to play with and whom they do not, when they want to play and how often, and over time they build a curated network of friends within the game. The players play together through game changes, group changes, sometimes through drama with other players, strengthening their friendships. As they play, players solidify friendships in the game but not necessarily based on the gameplay. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company and use the game to stay connected.

  • Daniel describes the interactions in the game as creating “an inertia of not wanting to leave the game due to the social network that was developed within it.”

  • On the engagement in-game, Karen says, “it’s a very powerful social channel… I do want to caveat that by saying some of our relationships, and our friendships, have transcended beyond the game… we enjoy each other’s company.”

  • The diversity in interactions in the game is important to John, “I talk to a lot of different people in my job, and I need to be able to know how to converse with them to a degree where they’re going to understand what I’m talking about. And you get that same interaction in WOW. People from different backgrounds, they have different knowledge levels of things.”

  • Alan emphasizes that when curating interactions, “if somebody is very mean… I can block them. And that’s allowed me to create a group and develop this circle of friends that we know are very positive to one another.”

This process of developing relationships can be considered similar to hobby groups and online forums, except having regular activities and a set time and place to meet with each other in a virtual world from wherever their physical location may be. The introduction of software such as Discord lets people interact with their friends outside of the game through their computer or phone app, 24/7, so the relationships in the game are accessible when not logged into the game or actively playing, or even currently subscribed.

  • Elizabeth describes the gameplay as a hobby saying, “it can be very time-consuming. It can be addictive… However, those are not at all unique to World of Warcraft, not at all. Being a hobby, it can be time-consuming, money-consuming, and can really take over your life. But if you’re a scuba diver, you’re going to pay a lot more per month than you would if you’re a Warcraft player.”

  • Alan describes using Discord as “it [Discord] gives us a little bit of an out-of-game presence, ability to communicate, share little bits and pieces from each other’s lives… while at the same time, you still have that comfortable distance… it’s just like text messaging.”

  • Sofia reiterates that concept describing it as “before, it was easier for me to say they’re just a WoW friend, but since I met them I just go by friend… I’ve known them, I can FaceTime them any time I want, or Discord when we are all just chilling.”

The takeaway from the findings is that meeting others in a shared space, communicating, and doing activities together can lead to experiences of developing friendships that can transcend virtual communities and create meaningful perceived support and a sense of community. The friendships and social interactions in the game were not distinguished from those out of the game unless mentioned with relevance to the location. The perceived social support was similar in both online and offline interactions. This is important to consider since we increasingly live a more virtual lifestyle, both for work and maintaining our connections with others. Several online sources have already picked up on the significance of this and started adding gamification elements to their online coaching programs and creating ways to facilitate engagement in learning.

Daniel posits that “the feeling of victory when you work on something really hard. Those moments come along in life very rarely. They do come, but they’re rare. You know, your graduation, or a business deal, I mean they’re rare. In Warcraft, they’re much more frequent. You work so hard for so long at something. And when it pans out, everybody feels great. I miss that right away... the experience of friendship. A very strong and stable kind of friendship is shared within a group. That is very difficult to replicate outside the digital experience because of the job, proximity, and everything else… It’s that friendship experience that pulls people back. It’s what pulls me back personally. And it’s the pattern I’ve observed over and over again. People come back because they want that camaraderie that is fleeting in real life. But it’s location-dependent in real life. But in the digital world, it’s not. Those people who are your friends, you’ve known them for years. They’re always going to be there. And where else can you get that kind of stability? Where else can you get that kind of assurance?”

Karen speaks on the value and influence of gameplay, saying, “It gives these leadership opportunities to people, these younger people, to step up and fill these gaps where, you know, maybe they would have been in the chess club, or they would have been in crossfit team, or track and field, or some other kind of college organization or young person organization. It just happened to be that they chose World of Warcraft and they got into a raid… Teamwork, organization, camaraderie, unity, community, the socialization that comes with all of these aspects, as well as just being able to get online and learn, some people to hang out with. I think all of these are positive experiences of World of Warcraft.”

I want to challenge you, as I’ve challenged myself, to respond to Daniel’s words when he questions where you can find a stable experience and camaraderie regardless of proximity, along with Karen’s emphasis on creating a place that fills in the gap where people can step in and belong as well as thrive. We can easily adapt to ensure that our clients, customers, and members have opportunities to engage with each other, activities they can be involved in together, and goals to facilitate bonding. Hence, they gain a sense of achievement and celebrate with their cohorts once they reach a milestone. While we can’t guarantee they will build lifelong friendships and inertia to return to our programs for more, we can set them up for success in the program and facilitate the opportunity to build meaningful relationships and skills that transcend their virtual experience however long their time is spent with us.

If you’d like to read more of my research, or simply geek out with me about how you’re using games to help yourself or others grow, please feel free to email or visit me online. I’d love to hear from you.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. You can also visit my website.


Heather Bryant Ph.D., LPC, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Heather Bryant is a licensed therapist and transformational coach with a doctorate in psychology. She has spent the last two decades advocating for clients and their families as she helped them face life’s challenges. Heather has worked with clients of all ages in various clinic settings and private practice. She has experienced personal life challenges that taught her the importance of faith and innovative skills to remain resilient. She knows firsthand how life can get busy and throw curveballs. Recognizing how we can often lose pieces of ourselves in the process of growth or change, she helps people break that cycle. Heather provides a supportive and nurturing place for people to reconnect with their core and fully embrace themselves. She is committed to helping people gain clarity and develop skills to focus on what is most important to them, even when life gets chaotic. Her mission is to empower her clients to show up in their lives and stand confidently in their authentic presence.



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