Due to be published in the science journal Computers in Human Behavior in April 2015, the paper seeks to improve on past research that links online video gaming to loneliness, depression, social anxiety, poor self-esteem, and social incompetence. Kowert and her colleagues from the Universities of Muenster and Hohenheim studied 4500 gamers over 1- and 2-year periods to determine whether negative psychological traits are a consequence of engaging in online games like MMOs or simply act to draw people to online games that help them compensate for those negative traits (the "social compensation hypothesis").
MMORPG gamers will be happy to know that the findings suggest that the latter is true; no, your MMOs won't make you depressed or suddenly unable to manage interpersonal communications:
The results uncovered here do not support the claims that exposure to, or prolonged engagement within, OVG [online video game] spaces negatively impacts players' psychosocial well-being. In that respect, concerns regarding OVGs being a threat to public health seem to be exaggerated. These findings do, however, provide the empirical evidence for a social compensation model among young adult participants, indicating that OVGs have likely become alternative social outlets for young adult players with [low] social and psychosocial resources, as reflected by lower reported life satisfaction and social competence.In fact, the effect was strongest for young gamers: "For adolescent players, being a member of the online game playing community was found to bolster their reported life-satisfaction."
Stay tuned later this month for a full Massively report on Kowert's MMO-related research.
[Many thanks to Dr. Kowert and her team for lending us the full pre-print paper for this article.]