Video Games Role in Boys Friendships

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The teenager rushed into the house after getting home from school. He quickly nodded towards his mom before turning on his Xbox. His mom heard him muttering into a headset, “We need to form an alpha team so we can encircle them.”

The teen stayed glued to the screen, playing on his Xbox for the next couple of hours. His mother is getting concerned about all of the time her son is spending playing these games. She wishes he would go out more with his friends.

The worry regarding boys playing video games and how much is too much has been an ongoing issue for the past couple of decades. There have been concerns that playing excessively can contribute to anxiety, depression, and loneliness. However, this is not a complete picture of how video games impact boys.

Video games have become more social over the years and are now one of the ways boys connect to their friends. Since video games have been networked to the internet, boys have the ability to talk to their friends while playing the games. This is the equivalent of hanging out at a friend’s house for previous generations.

In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of boys indicated playing video games. Many boys will play video games with friends in person, in addition to playing with them online. This time spent playing the games gives the boys time with their friends to share a common activity which can maintain and strengthen their friendships.

Video games also give boys a safe space where they can belong and develop their social skills. Many online video games require players to collaborate and work as a team in order to be successful. This means boys have to figure out how to be part of a group, negotiate, and figure out how to overcome obstacles. These skills are ones that teenagers need to master in order to succeed as adults.

Boys don’t just spend their time gaming with existing friends, they also make new ones. More than half of teenage boys make friends online while playing video games. Making friends in online games is so common for boys that one of the first pieces of information that many share with others is their gaming handle.

Most teenage boys who play video games have a strong group of friends. For the boys who do not, video games can allow boys who have trouble fitting in to find a community of online friends where they can connect and find support and acceptance. This gives them an outlet that was not available to boys with similar difficulties in the past.

Overall, more boys are going to feel better about themselves by being able to play video games with others than not. There are still dangers out there and it is possible for some boys to play too much but these dangers are relatively rare and are outweighed by the benefits that online gaming platforms provide.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on August 23, 2015

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