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Friendship in online gaming among emotionally sensitive gamers

The current study addresses this question by evaluating the link between gaming-related friendships and shyness, as quantified by emotional sensitivity.

Rachel Kowert (University of Münster), Emese Domahidi (University of Münster) and Thorsten Quandt (University of Münster) have published a study regarding the relationship between online videogame involvement and gaming-related friendship among emotionally sensitive individuals in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.


Some researchers believe that online gaming spaces can be socially accommodating environments for socially inhibited individuals, such as the socially inept, socially anxious, or shy. Whilst previous research has examined, and found, significant links between these populations and online video game play, it remains unknown to what extent these spaces are contributing to tangible social benefits for the socially inhibited. The current study addresses this question by evaluating the link between gaming-related friendships and shyness, as quantified by emotional sensitivity. Drawing from a representative sample of German game players, the results indicate that emotionally sensitive players are using online gaming spaces differently from their less emotionally sensitive counterparts and reporting tangible differences in their in-game friendship networks. This suggests that online games hold the potential to be socially advantageous for shy individuals by allowing them to overcome their traditional social difficulties and generate new friendships as well as strengthen old ones.

This post is cross-posted at VG Researcher.

Shyness which is an anxiety in meeting people and social discomfort in the company of others is based on the fear of social evaluation and rejection. Shyness is associated with being overly sensitive of their own behaviours, hesitating in speaking and rehearsing a lot about their future interactions which can lead to less social support and a smaller circle of friends. The online world have certain affordances that the offline world do not possess. Visual anonymity, asynchronous interactions, mediated communication are amongst these affordances. It is thought that shy or socially vulnerable people might benefit from these affordances because they can compensate or overcome their social difficulties. The authors noted whether being highly involved in the online world, focusing in online gaming, would be socially beneficial for emotionally sensitive individuals.

Emotional sensitivity is a behavioural component of shyness where one evaluate their social interactions as a skill rather than as personality trait or disposition. With emotional sensitivity as a skill, it is about people’s ability to interpret the non-verbal and emotional cues of others, such as picking others’ vocal tone who might sound angry, anxious or happy, nonverbal gestures that could indicate another’s interest or disinterest in the person or the conservation, etc. Unfortunately, a high level of emotional sensitivity could mean a hypersensitivity to others’ nonverbal messages which could make someone more socially inhibited and really self-conscious about themselves.

The authors chose to examine the relationship between emotional sensitivity and friendship in a online videogames because it is a social and playful environment. This means gamers play together online for a sharing something in common, to have fun or other gaming motivations which helps develop social relationships. Since they can communicate about in-game activities, it can ease off the stress of communicating on other topics.


Participants: 396 German respondents who were part of a large nationally representative telephone survey ran by the Social Foundations of Online Gaming (SOFOGA). The survey was conducted between March and April 2013. Other SOFOGA findings were reported in other publications (see Breuer et al., 2014; Domahidi et al., 2014; Kowert et al., 2014; Festl et al., 2013). Average age is 31.85 (SD = 12.72), 73% were men and average daily play time is 1.24 hours (SD = 1.21).


A nationally representative telephone survey means that they asked respondents a lot of questions related to a lot of topics, so for one research question the number of questions and the depth in answering these questions would be few and short, respectively. Another consideration is that people can get tired of answering a lot of questions on the phone.

Emotional sensitivity: 3-items answered on a 5-point characteristic scale from the Social Skills Inventory. Example item include “I can accurately tell what a person’s character is upon first meeting him or her”.

Online videogame involvement: Average daily play time in playing online multiplayer videogames.

Online gaming friendship: Respondents reported the number of online gaming friends they have not met offline and the number of online gaming friends that they have met offline. They reported the number of offline friends who they know from daily life who transferred into an online gaming friendship.


To compare groups, they split the sample in half according to the emotional sensitivity scale so they can compare respondents with low emotional sensitivity whose score is below 9 to those with high emotional sensitivity whose score is above 9. A fellow researcher poked them about their rationale for splitting the sample in half, there are some statistical concerns about median splits just FYI. The authors conducted a MANOVA controlling for age and gender. They found that those respondents with high emotional sensitivity had more online gaming friends that they have met offline (M = 4.61, SD = 11.01) than those with low emotional sensitivity (M = 2.25, SD = 6.23). Furthermore, this is true for offline friends transferred into online gaming friendship, high group (M = 5.03, SD = 5.04) vs. low group (M = 3.19, SD = 3.45).

The authors conducted regression analyses to examine the relationship between emotional sensitivity and online gaming friendships. They found a positive relationship between emotional sensitivity and the number of online gaming friends accounting for age and gender. The higher a person’s emotional sensitivity, the greater number of online gaming friends they had not met offline, as well as meeting them offline and offline friends who are transferred into an online gaming friendship. Online videogame involvement was not a significant predictor.


The take home message is that emotional sensitivity, a behavioural component of shyness, is a predictor for the number of online gaming friendships. This is to say that emotionally sensitive users are using the online gaming environment differently from their counterparts. As they are shy in face-to-face interactions which translated to fewer friends, but they were able to make more friends through online videogames which its affordances (i.e. asynchronicity, visual anonymity, etc.) paved a way for them to compensate or overcome their shyness. It is not just having online friendships, but they were able to meet them offline as well.

There are some limitations of this study. First, they surveyed German respondents because that’s where they did the survey and secured research funding. A crowdfunding effort in the United States might give us the best chances in replicating the present findings. Second, they were only able to assess for one aspect of shyness because of the cost for a nationally representative survey, better examine as many topics than just one. The data may support some hypotheses, but does support all. A more in-depth assessment of gamers’ social network, such as friendship history, interactions (both in-game and outside) would provide a clearer understanding about the relationship with shyness and online friendships. Finally, the authors noted that the variance was relatively small, meaning that other variables might have a stronger effect than emotional sensitivity, such as social skills, social self-esteem among others.

Kowert, R., Domahidi, E., & Quandt, T. (2014). The relationship between online video game involvement and Gaming-Related friendships among emotionally sensitive individuals. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17 (7), 447-453. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2013.0656

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