For Science: New research affirms online friends provide emotional and informational support

The what?

You’ve probably seen the declaration that “online friends are real friends” somewhere on the internet a few times, and while that can seem pretty obvious to most, there’s now a new scientific research to back up the claim. A new paper in the Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds asserts that online social groups do indeed provide support to people on both an informational and emotional level.

The authors of the paper (Network analysis among World of Warcraft players’ social support variables: A two-way approach) took in 181 volunteer players of World of Warcraft – 128 male, 53 female, chiefly from Australia with an average age around 25 – who filled out survey questions created by those putting together the research. These questions used a scale system in order for respondents to gauge how frequently they received support for both instrumental in-game matters and emotional matters, both online and offline; it also asked whether players are enrolled in a guild or not with a simple yes/no question.

According to the researchers, online social constructs for both advice and emotional help were “significantly associated” with one another, while offline interactions were primarily linked to informational matters. Additionally, the study found a stronger emotional support system created for those in guilds versus those not in a guild, particularly in terms of given advice.

The authors do note several limitations of the study, including the lack of assessment for offline information social support. “Our conceptualization of social support centres on one’s perceived and received support rather than social networks between players,” they write, recommending future studies with larger sample sizes, more women, more players outside of Australia, and more recent games. (Did they… did they just call WoW old?!)

The full paper can be read for yourself, but the sum-up from Research Director Dr. Rachel Kowert says it best: “Online friends are ‘real’ friends and provide informational and emotional support.”

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