Content uploaded by Marcel Martončik
All content in this area was uploaded by Marcel Martončik on Jul 02, 2021
Content may be subject to copyright.
Full length article
Do World of Warcraft (MMORPG) players experience less loneliness
and social anxiety in online world (virtual environment) than in real
Institute of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, Presov University in Presov, Ul. 17. novembra 1, 080 01 Pre
Received 19 August 2015
Received in revised form
14 November 2015
Accepted 19 November 2015
Available online xxx
World of Warcraft
The number of online game players continues to grow, as well as the number of hours spent in online
world. World of Warcraft (WoW) is one of the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing
Games (MMORPG). It is set in an elaborate ﬁctional world, in which players achieve goals through
interaction and mutual communication. The present study veriﬁed differences in experiencing loneliness
(UCLA Loneliness Scale) and social anxiety (Social Phobia Inventory) in WoW players in online and real
world (ofﬂine) since these two worlds and the functioning of the players in them differ. In the sample
consisting of 161 players, it was found that players experience a signiﬁcantly lower degree of loneliness
and social anxiety in online than in real world. The lower degree of loneliness experienced was also
associated with playing with friends and known people, with guild membership, as well as frequent
communication with teammates through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services. The results suggest
that WoW is a highly social environment that encourages cooperation, communication and friendship.
©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
In the past ten years, MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online
Role Playing Games) have become a favorite way of spending lei-
sure time for young people and adults. In 2007, MMORPGs were
played by nearly 50 million people around the world (according to
mogdata.voig.com). MMORPG constitute a separate genre of com-
puter games with a fully developed ﬁctional world with acoustic
and visual detail (Grifﬁths, Davies &Chappell, 2007). They belong
to the group of multiplayer games designed primarily for computer
platforms; they are considered highly social as players are intended
to perform various tasks through interaction with other players,
with whom they may form new relationships and friendships as in
real world. Despite the fact that in the last 10 years many games of
this genre have been produced, World of Warcraft (WoW) has been
the most popular title, with almost 10 million active players as of
2014 (Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. 2014). Yee, 2006a (p. 325) has
aptly assessed MMORPG games as follows: “they are places where
people fall in love, get married, elect governors, attend poetry
readings, start a pharmaceutical business, and even commit
genocide. Whatever MMORPGs are, or will become, one thing is
clear. They are not just games”.
In relation to computer games and the Internet, it is possible to
distinguish two forms of reality or versions of the world; online
world (termed also virtual environment, virtual world or virtual
life); and real world (real life, ofﬂine world). Virtual world ac-
cording to Gilbert (2011) represents a digital environment, that has
3D graphical interface, supports massively multi-user remote
interactivity, is persistent, immersive and emphasizes user-
generated activities and goals. MMORPGs are „for all intents and
purposes, the latest incarnation of a virtual environment in that
they share the concept of a shared virtual world, a representation of
the player as an avatar“, characterized with egocentric perspective,
stereoscopic 3-D visualization, real-time interactivity, immersion
and multisensory feedback (Stanney, Hale, &Zyda, 2015, p. 12).
Except some physical limitations of the online world (such as the
inability to physically manipulate objects or to satisfy basic physi-
ological needs, etc.), online world is parallel to the real world (e.g.
Whang &Chang, 2004) and people behave in online world similarly
as in real world (Kozlov &Johansen, 2010; Slater et al., 2006; Yee,
2006b). In the three-dimensional online world, people can expe-
rience emotions, communicate with other people, pursue their
hobbies, study, travel virtually, etc. (e.g. Partala, 2011). Greater
degree of freedom, anonymity and associated differences in
E-mail address: email@example.com (M. Marton
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Computers in Human Behavior
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh
0747-5632/©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134
communication and realization of the activities that would hardly
be feasible in real world are typical for the online world. It can be
concluded, that online and real world are similar but also different
in number of properties. Despite the fact about the mentioned
existence of two worlds, the research of experiencing of players is
concentrated only in the real world. As the possibilities and quali-
ties of the online world differ from the real world, such as the na-
ture of social relationships and communication, it seems that some
psychological characteristics should be examined separately for
each environment; not in isolation; for instance, only for the real
world with ﬁndings also applicable to the online world. It is also
supported by a fact, that if a player is immersed in the onlineworld,
he/she experiences his/her existence in the online world, not in the
real world. Therefore, the objective of the study is to verify the
differences in experiencing loneliness and social anxiety in players
in real and in online world. It seems that players experience less
loneliness and social anxiety in online world, which is to be related
to the social nature of MMORPG games.
1.1. Social aspect of MMORPGs
The most important aspect of MMORPG games is not the playing
itself, but the ability to form strong friendships, in which players are
often highly emotionally invested (Cole &Grifﬁths, 2007; Grifﬁths,
Davies, &Chappell, 2004). Therefore, many people use MMORPGs
to meet their social needs, which they are unable to satisfy in real
world (Lo, Wang, &Fang, 2005). In MMORPG, players of various
ages, nationalities, gender, occupation and religious beliefs meet in
order to fulﬁll the objectives offered by the game world (Yee,
2006a). The virtual environment allows people to express them-
selves in a way that would otherwise be unpleasant in real world
(e.g. because of their appearance, sexuality, etc.), which makes
social contact much easier and comfortable thanks to a certain
degree of anonymity (Cole &Grifﬁths, 2007; Morahan-Martin &
Schumacher, 2003). Cole and Grifﬁths (2007) have found that two-
thirds of the players form strong friendships with other players,
with the mean number of good friends made within a MMORPG of
seven, and more than one third of the players had met their
teammates and gaming friends before in real life. However, players
are actively seeking social interaction only in the virtual environ-
ment and not in real world (Kowert &Oldmeadow, 2013). Forming
friendly relationships (meaningful relationships that are supportive
in nature) is an important motivator for playing MMORPG (Yee,
2006a) and for a large number of players, social interactions and
friendships formed in the game environment are equal to those
created in real world (Williams et al., 2006).
The formation of friendly relationships is supported by the
afﬁliation to game teams; called guilds, where players meet with a
common purpose. In general, there are three kinds of guilds: PvE
(Player versus Environment), PvP (Player versus Player) and RP
(Role playing). Guilds are the most important part of MMORPG
social life as that is where new relationships and friendships orig-
inate, which often transcend the virtual world and become parts of
everyday (real) life of many players (e.g. Trepte, Reinecke, &
Juechems, 2012; Williams et al., 2006). This aspect of playing was
also pointed out by Domahidi, Festl, and Quandt (2014, p. 110), who
found that “online gamers with a pronounced motive of searching
for social capital and teamplay had a higher probability of meeting
originally online friends personally”.Snodgrass, Lacy, Dengah II.,
and Fagan (2011) believe that in players who play with their
friends from the real world, game immersion is not associated with
adverse effects; but instead, it reduces stress and level of MMO
problematic play. Therefore, it is more important to examine
players’motivation than, for instance, the length of playing or
personality traits. Frequently observed adverse effects of playing
computer games are loneliness and social anxiety, in reduction of
which MMORPG games are thought to play a vital role.
1.2. Loneliness in online world
Loneliness as a psychological construct represents a subjectively
perceived lack of satisfying social relationships; their quantity or
quality, which is accompanied by discomfort and distress (Peplau,
1988). Lonely individuals are attracted to the online environment
and the social interaction in it (Leung, 2011; Morahan-Martin &
Schumacher, 2003); and for these individuals, this environment is
an ideal social space, in which they can satisfy their need to belong.
In online world, lonely people feel more like themselves; they are
more open, friendlier; and they are experiencing more entertain-
ment and share secrets with their online friends because they un-
derstand each other better (Morahan-Martin &Schumacher, 2003).
Anonymity and lack of real, face-to-face communication also re-
duces social anxiety, which may increase the willingness to form
friendly relationships. In online world, MMORPG players can also
be accepted and gain prestige due to their technical skills
(Morahan-Martin &Schumacher, 2003). Despite the fact that on-
line world is attractive for lonely people, Visser, Antheunis, and
Schouten (2013) did not ﬁnd direct effect of playing WoW on so-
cial competence and loneliness. Kardefelt-Winther (2014, p. 122)
summarizes it as follows: “Problematic real life situations can
motivate a user to go online and use certain applications to fulﬁl
unmet needs or alleviate dysphoric moods. This can have positive
and negative outcomes. Positive when the compensation is suc-
cessful and makes the user feel better and negative when prob-
lematic outcomes occur; these are not mutually exclusive and may
coincide. When the motivations to go online are grounded in unmet
real life needs or certain psychological characteristics, the risk of
negative outcomes may be higher due to the intensity of use and
permanence that such compensation requires”.
1.3. Social anxiety in online world
Schlenker and Leary (1982, p. 642) deﬁne social anxiety as an
“anxiety resulting from the prospect or presence of personal eval-
uation in real or imagined social situations”(such as conversation,
meeting new people or public speaking). Social anxiety is also very
closely linked to loneliness (Jones, Rose, &Russell, 1990), and in the
form of shyness, it is also one of the factors contributing to expe-
riencing loneliness (Peplau, 1988). Both social anxiety and loneli-
ness represent subjectively experienced issues of interaction with
other people. Social anxiety can hinder the development of friendly
and romantic relationships, achieving goals at school and work, and
at worst, it can develop into a severe personality disorder
(Leitenberg, 1990). Virtual environment and possibilities offered by
MMORPG games can solve all the adverse effects mentioned in
connection to social anxiety. Like loneliness, social anxiety too, is
considered by some authors to be a signiﬁcant predictor of online
social interaction preferences or problematic internet use (e.g.
Caplan, 2007; Lee &Stapinski, 2012; Lo et al., 2005). Highly socially
anxious individuals then transfer most of their social activities,
including the formation of strong friendships, into the online world,
where they feel safer and more comfortable than in real world. At
the same time, these individuals deem themselves more successful
in computer based communication than in real, face-to-face
communication (Shalom, Israeli, Markovitzky, &Lipsitz, 2015)
and communicate with a higher number of people online than face-
to-face (Lee &Stapinski, 2012). However, according to Lo et al.
(2005) online games reduce social anxiety only temporarily as
they contribute to no improvements of real world social skills.
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134128
1.4. The present study
MMORPG games form a space primarily for mutual communi-
cation, co-operation and formation of new friendships, which may
extend into the real world. Mutual communication does not stay at
the level of written text but is also promoted by the use of webcams
and VoIP communication programs such as TeamSpeak or Ventrilo,
which enable players to see and hear each other. In the virtual
environment, which is often preferred to the real environment,
players feel more comfortable, safer and are willing to form
friendships and conﬁne to others, therefore we assume that players
experience less loneliness and social anxiety in online world than in
real world. Following hypotheses are proposed with regard to dif-
ferences expected in experiencing loneliness and social anxiety in
online and real world:
H1. Players are expected to experience signiﬁcantly less loneli-
ness/social anxiety in online world than in real world.
H2. Guild members are expected to exhibit signiﬁcantly less
loneliness/social anxiety than non-members in online world
H3. Players who play with friends/people known from the real
world are expected to exhibit signiﬁcantly less loneliness/social
anxiety than players who do not play with friends/known
people both in online and real world.
H4. Players who have played WoW for a longer amount of time
are expected to exhibit signiﬁcantly less loneliness/social anxi-
ety than players who have played for a shorter amount of time.
H5. Players who use VoIP services to communicate with other
players more frequently are expected to exhibit signiﬁcantly less
loneliness/social anxiety than players who do not use VoIP
Players found on World of Warcraft internet message boards
were asked to kindly participate in research. A total of 180 players
responded, out of which 19 responses were incomplete and had to
be discarded. Missing values were handled with Expectation-
Maximization (EM) method. The ﬁnal sample consisted of 161
people, out of which 142 were male and 19 were female, and more
than two thirds of the players were from the United States. The
average age of the sample was 21; the minimum age was 13; and
the maximum age was 50. 124 players were guild members, while
36 players were not afﬁliated with any guild. 112 players played
with friends/people known from the real world, while 49 players
played without friends/people known from the real world. The
average amount of time played per week was 20.77 h, with the
minimum of 3 h and maximum of 65 h per week. The average total
time played was 190.56 days, with the minimum of 2 days and the
maximum of 745 days. With regard to the frequency of commu-
nication programs used by players to communicate with each other,
it was found that 21 players never use the communication pro-
grams; 20 players reported that they used them rarely; 45 players
used them sometimes; and 74 players reported that they used them
Questionnaires assessing loneliness and social anxiety were
administered simultaneously two times; once for the real world
and once for the online world. While completing the question-
naires, players were instructed to imagine that the questions
related solely to either the real world or the onlineworld. (Example
for SPIN1: In this part, you are going to answer 17 short assertions.
This entire section is focused on real world situations only. Please,
answer every assertion honestly).
The questionnaire completed by the participants included sec-
tions assessing loneliness, social anxiety, demographics, game
experience and game behaviors.
Loneliness was assessed using the UCLA Loneliness Scale
(Russel, Peplau &Ferguson, 1978). This scale includes 20 Likert-
type questions on a four-point scale, with 1 ¼I never feel this
way and 4 ¼I often feel this way. Loneliness was determined as the
total score of responses to the total of 20 questions. The mean score
for the real world was 38.14 (SD ¼14.25). The mean score for the
online world was 35.00 (SD ¼13.89). The questionnaire reliability
expressed as the value of coefﬁcient omega in real world was 0.95,
95% CI [0.94, 0.96]; in online world 0.95, 95% CI [0.93, 0.96].
Social anxiety was assessed using the Social Phobia Inventory
SPIN (Connor, Davidson, Churchill, Sherwood, Foa &Wesler, 2000),
which was designed to assess symptoms speciﬁc to social anxiety
disorder. SPIN was chosen because itconsists of items applicable for
both the real and online world situations. The questionnaire con-
sisted of 17 items, which measured (a) the fear in social situations
(six items), (b) the avoidance of performance or social situations
(seven items), and (c) the physiological discomfort in social situa-
tions (four items). Individuals were asked to respond to questions
regarding how much they were bothered by particular symptoms
during the past week. Each item was measured on a 5-point Likert
scale, ranging from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely). The mean score
for the real world was 34.90 (SD ¼13.15). The mean score for the
online world was 24.59 (SD ¼9.15). The questionnaire reliability
expressed as the value of coefﬁcient omega in real world was 0.92,
95% CI [0.90, 0.94], in online world 0.91, 95% CI [0.87, 0.95].
Within the game experience and game behaviors, the following
items were being assessed: afﬁliation to a guild, average time
played per week, total time played (the total time spent playing in
days), the frequency of communication with teammates through
communication programs (How often do you talk through
communication software? such as TeamSpeak or Ventrilo) and
playing with friends/known people (Do you often play with a
known associate of yours? such as friends, colleagues, classmates,
A paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare players’
loneliness and social anxiety in online and real world conditions.
Signiﬁcant differences were found in the scores for loneliness in
online world (M ¼35.00, SD ¼13.89) and real world (M ¼38.13,
SD ¼14.25) conditions, t (160) ¼2.85, p ¼0.005. The effect size
for this analysis (d ¼0.22) was found to have approached the
convention for a small effect (Cohen, 1977). Signiﬁcant differences
were found in the scores for social anxiety in online world
(M ¼24.59, SD ¼9.15) and real world (M ¼34.90, SD ¼13.15 )
conditions, t (160) ¼10.9, p ¼0.000. The effect size for this analysis
(d ¼0.88) was found to have approached the convention for a large
effect (Cohen, 1977). The effect size was determined using the
described by (Dunlop, Cortina, Vaslow, and Burke 1996).
The results of the paired-samples t-test along with means and
standard deviations for loneliness and social anxiety for both
conditions are presented in Table 1.
Since social anxiety variables in online and real world were
positively skewed, bootstrapping with 10 000 bootstrap samples
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134 129
was used. The result was found signiﬁcant at the level of p <0.01.
A mixed between-within subjects analysis of variance was
conducted to compare scores for social anxiety and loneliness be-
tween 1) players who play with known people (like friends, col-
leagues, classmates, neighbors) and players who do not; 2)
members and non-members of guilds; 3) players who communi-
cate with other players through communication software with
various frequency (never, rarely, sometimes, always); 4) players
who have different total time played (2e62days, 67e148days,
150 e295days, 300e745days).
3.1. Playing with known people
No signiﬁcant interaction was found between the type of the
world (online and real) and playing with known people for lone-
liness, F(1, 159) ¼1.323, p ¼0.252, and for social anxiety, F(1,
159) ¼0.227, p ¼0.634. a) The main effect of the type of the world
was found signiﬁcant for loneliness, F(1, 159) ¼4.746, p <0.05;
¼0.029. This effect reveals that players perceive loneliness as
signiﬁcantly lower in online world (M ¼35.00, SD ¼13.89) than in
real world (M ¼38.13, SD ¼14.25). The main effect of the type of
the world was also found signiﬁcant for social anxiety, F(1,
159) ¼104.087, p <0.001,
¼0.396. Players perceive anxiety as
signiﬁcantly lower in online world (M ¼24.59, SD ¼9.15) than in
real world (M ¼34.90, SD ¼13.15). b) The main effect of playing
with known people is not presented as comparing average scores
for loneliness and social anxiety for both worlds is not relevant.
Instead, a one-way between subjects ANOVA was conducted to
compare the effect of playing with known people separately for
each of the variables mentioned. A signiﬁcant effect was found for
loneliness in online world, F(1, 159) ¼10.708, p ¼0.001, d ¼0.56
and ofﬂine world, F(1, 159) ¼3.970, p ¼0.048, d ¼0.34. This effect
reveals that players playing with known people perceive loneliness
as signiﬁcantly lower in online world (M
in real world (M
¼13.22) than players not playing
with known people (M
¼16.00). No signiﬁcant effect was found for social anxiety in
online world, F(1, 159) ¼0.987, p ¼0.322 and ofﬂine world, F(1,
159) ¼1.273, p ¼0.261.
3.2. Playing in a guild
No signiﬁcant interaction was found between the type of the
world (online and real) and being a member of a guild for loneli-
ness, F(1, 158) ¼1.067, p ¼0.303. a) The main effect of type of the
world is presented above. b) A one-way between subjects ANOVA
was conducted to compare the effect of membership in a guild for
loneliness. Signiﬁcant effect of membership in a guild was found for
loneliness in online world, F(1, 158) ¼8.511, p ¼0.004, d ¼0.55.
Members of a guild experienced less loneliness (M ¼33.12,
SD ¼12.69) than players who are not members of a guild
(M ¼40.47, SD ¼15.27). No signiﬁcant effect of membership in a
guild was found for loneliness in real world, F(1, 158) ¼3.067,
3.3. Communication with other players
Signiﬁcant interaction was found between the type of the world
(online and real) and communication with other players for lone-
liness, F(3, 157) ¼4.588, p ¼0.004,
¼0.08. The effect size for this
analysis (f ¼0.29) was found to have approached the convention
for a medium effect (Cohen, 1977). The interaction is presented in
As can be seen in Fig. 1, players who communicate with other
players through communication software such as TeamSpeak or
Ventrilo rarely or not at all experience more loneliness than players
who communicate with other players always or frequently. These
differences are most noticeable in online world, where loneliness of
the players who communicate with other players sometimes and
always is lower than in real world. Means and standard deviations
are presented in Table 2.
No signiﬁcant interaction was found between the type of the
world (online and real) and communication with other players for
social anxiety, F(3, 157) ¼1.123, p ¼0.342. a) The main effect of the
type of the world is presented above. b) A one-way between sub-
jects ANOVA was conducted to compare the effect of different
frequency of communication for social anxiety. Signiﬁcant effect of
communication with other players was found for social anxiety in
online world F(1,157) ¼5.249, p ¼0.002, f ¼0.31. Post hoc com-
parisons using the Hochberg's GT2 test indicated that players who
communicate with other players always (M ¼22.55, SD ¼6.54) and
sometimes (M ¼23.77, SD ¼6.42) experienced less social anxiety
than players who do not communicate at all (M ¼30.09,
SD ¼16.65). No signiﬁcant effect of communication with other
players was found for social anxiety in real world F(1,157) ¼2.039,
3.4. Different total time played
Four groups of players who had played for different total time
were divided into quartiles. No signiﬁcant interaction was found
between the type of the world (online and real) and total time
played ((2e62days, 67e148days, 150e295days, 300e745days) for
social anxiety, F(3, 112) ¼2.464, p ¼0.066 and for loneliness, F(3,
112 ) ¼1.034, p ¼0.380. a) The main effect of the type of the world
was found signiﬁcant for social anxiety, F(1, 112) ¼94.88, p ¼0.000,
¼0.46. The main effect of the type of the world was also found
signiﬁcant for loneliness, F(1, 112) ¼9.188, p <0.001;
¼0.08. b) A
one-way between subjects ANOVA was conducted to compare the
effect of different total time played for social anxiety and loneliness.
No signiﬁcant effect was found for social anxiety in online world,
F(3, 112) ¼0.644, p ¼0.588, for social anxiety in ofﬂine world,
F(3, 112) ¼2.593, p ¼0.056, for loneliness in online world, F(3,
112 ) ¼0.903, p ¼0.442 and for loneliness in real world, F(3,
112 ) ¼2.270, p ¼0.084.
4. Discussion and conclusions
Every player of MMORPG games lives what it seems to be a
double life; one in the real world and the other in the world of
Results of t-test and descriptive statistics for lonesliness and social anxiety by type of a world.
n M SD 95% CI 95% Bootstrap CI t df d
Loneliness in online world 161 35.00 13.89 [5.29, 0.96] 2.85
Loneliness in real world 161 38.13 14.25
Social anxiety in online world 161 24.59 9.15 [12.18, 8.44] [-12.17, 8.51] 10.9
Social anxiety in real world 161 34.90 13.15
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134130
Azaroth. The nature of the online world enables players to form
friendships and communicate with others more easily. Generally,
the social aspect of MMORPG games may be related to different
mental experiencing in online world. This reasoning was the basis
for the objective of the present study; i.e. to verify the differences in
experiencing loneliness and social anxiety in players in real and
online world. The results of the study support the hypothesis that
World of Warcraft players experience less loneliness and social
anxiety in online world. The degree of loneliness and social anxiety
experienced in online world is also reduced by the factors that
increase the degree of social activity such as presence of and
playing with known people, playing with a team-guild (valid only
for loneliness) and communication with other players. The total
time played was not found signiﬁcant for differences in observed
Why do players experience less loneliness and social anxiety in
online world than in real world? In online world, WoW players
meet people who share their interests and experiences with com-
puter games, with whom they can discuss them. Online environ-
ment provides players, who are often anxious, with a space, in
which they can form and experience high-quality relationships,
which satisfy their need to belong; for example, also by being
members of various guilds (e.g. Cole &Grifﬁths, 2007; Leung, 2011).
Many players use MMORPG to meet their social needs, which they
are unable to satisfy in real world (Lo, Wang &Fang, 2005) as social
interactions and friendships formed in game environment are
equal to those in real world (Williams et al., 2006). Similarly, found
that WoW players who communicate with a number of other
players feel less lonely; and at the same time, this communication
improves their social well-being. In contrast, players may not feel
accepted in real world and in company of peoplewho do not play or
approve of computer games. According to Erath, Flanagan, and
Bierman (2007), this rejection may cause social anxiety, and com-
pounded by the lack of friends, with whom they could share their
interests, also loneliness (e.g. Weiss, 1973). Players, unable to ﬁnd
satisfying social contacts in real world, thus turn to virtual world;
and in this way, they not only experience less loneliness, but by
being accepted in online world, also less social anxiety. Another
explanation may be related to the perception of social anxiety as „a
response to threats to social status or reputation“(Nesse, 1998, in
Crozier &Alden, 2001, p. 4). In the online environment, WoW
players may perceive less threat to their social status, which can in
turn be increased by their game achievements (e.g. Morahan-
Martin &Schumacher, 2003). Yen, Yen, Chen, Wang, Chang, &Ko
(2012) have found similar differences in social anxiety between
online and real world; although not directly for online games.
Why do players playing with known people experience less
loneliness both in online and real world than players not playing
with known people? Why do players playing in guilds experience
less loneliness in online world than players playing by themselves?
Why do players who communicate with others through the
communication software more often experience less loneliness and
social anxiety than players not communicating as often? For be-
ginners, the social environment of WoW may be completely new;
for experienced players it may be, for example, joining a new guild.
The presence of a known person or a friend is expected to help
players reduce their anxiety and loneliness since they would feel
more secure when not alone (cf. Snodgrass, Lacy, Dengah II., and
Fagan, 2011). Similarly as to when students ﬁrst come to school,
Descriptives for communication with other players.
How often do you talk on the communication software
Never (n ¼21) Rarely
online 45.33 15.16 42.35 14.77 34.87 12.25 30.26 12.00
real 42.09 16.38 38.90 14.81 39.44 13.89 36.22 13.61
Fig. 1. Interaction between the type of the world (online and real) and communication with other players in loneliness.
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134 131
they are in a class full of strangers, so are players who are not
members of guilds and play WoW by themselves; they have fewer
opportunities for communication than members of guilds since the
nature of playing in a guild requires constant contact and interac-
tion (e.g. Zhong, 2011). Playing in a guild or e-Sports clan helps
players satisfy their need to belong (e.g. Cole &Grifﬁths, 2007;
cik, 2015), since “…playing in a guild or clan, being
involved in its management and participating in ofﬂine events
fosters communication with fellow players, enhances the willing-
ness for self-disclosure and thereby increases the chances of
gathering social capital”(Reer &Kr€
amer, 2014, p. 187). Being a
member of a WoWguild is typically associated with higher levels of
social support (Longman, O'Connor, &Obst, 2009; Zhong, 2011).
Internet chatting alone was shown by Shaw and Gant (2002) to
reduce loneliness and increase perceived social support. Interaction
in WoW is even more intensive and VoIP service is used for various
modes of communication, not just for typing, e.g. on own chat
channels, which guild members typically have. It is exactly VoIP
services, which enable a higher-quality form of communication and
interaction; and that supports friendship development, which can
reduce perceived loneliness (e.g. van Rooij, Schoenmakers, van den
Eijnden, Vermulst, &van de Mheen, 2014). WoW thus becomes an
ideal online environment for forming relationships and commu-
nication with other people, which is also stressed by Williams,
Ducheneaut, Xiong, Zhang, Yee, and Nickell (2006, p. 357): “for
players who knew each other beforehand, WoW was an important
way for them to maintain and even reinforce their relationships.
For most others, it was an entr
ee to bridging social capital that
could build up into something more over timedranging from a few
weeks to a year. For most, this was akin to a mild form of bonding
found in real-world third places. Still, only a handful of players felt
that these relationships mattered more than “real”-life ones”.
Why do players who have played games for different total
amout of time not differ in experiencing loneliness and social
anxiety in online and real world? Based on the fact that the fre-
quency of playing per week may vary throughout the weeks, the
total time played, as data that is not/does not have to be estimated
since it is accurately displayed by some add-ons or in-game com-
mands (/played time), is a better indicator of the time spent by
playing. At the same time, it creates a more accurate proﬁle of
players, since for instance, new players, for whom everything in the
game is new and unknown may play an average of 30 ha a week;
however, if they have played only for 2 weeks, their proﬁle as
MMORPG players is disputable. On the other hand, there is no
doubt that players who have spent a total of 190 days in online
world are MMORPG players. Why, then, is the total amount of time
spent by playing not related to experiencing loneliness and social
anxiety? With regard to human relationships, the online world is
probably quite similar to the real world. Various groups, friendships
and relationships are created in online world in a similar way as in
real world. The fact that players have spent some time in a certain
environment may not necesarily mean that they do not feel lonely
or anxious in this environment. It is possible that during this time,
players have formed several friendly relationships and joined a
number of guilds. It works similarly in real world; people are
members of certain groups, such as classrooms or working groups,
in which they form relationships with other people; however, it
often happens that people in these groups change. It is also
necessary to take into account that players play games other than
just WoW, and thus it is possible that they made friends, with
whom they play other multiplayer games in addition to WoW.
Therefore, the total time played may not correspond to the number
of satisfying and accepting relationships in a sense, the more time
spent in a certain online environment, the less loneliness players
perceive. Sometimes it is not as important how much time players
spend in a certain environment as what people surround them,
what groups they are members of; basically, what kind of envi-
ronment they are in. The total time played may thus not necessarily
be the determining factor for experiencing loneliness. Different
results were found by e.g. Lo, Wang and Fang (2005), in whose
research the heaviest players of online games had the least satis-
fying interpersonal relationships, less than light users and non-
players; and in Wei, Chen, Huang, and Bai (2012) research, they
tended to have more severe social phobia symptoms, which may be
related to using the average time played per week/day instead of
the total time played, as mentioned above, and not specifying the
type or genre of online games played.
Limitations. As interactions were not found to be signiﬁcant, the
main effects should be interpreted with caution; however, they are
consistent with our hypothesis. The internal validity of the study
could have been compromised by the fact that some aspects were
not measured or observed, such as the type of the guild (e.g. PvE,
PvP, RP), reasons why some players are not members of a guild or
whether they were members in the past, and players’motivation
for guild membership or for playing itself. It should also be noted
that only one MMORPG game was examined and the data obtained
through the internet message boards may not be representative of
other players since players who visit these boards may represent a
separate subgroups of WoW players.
The objective of the study was not to examine differences in
loneliness and social anxiety between the players and non-players,
but to explain players’mental experiencing in two distinct envi-
ronments, in online and in real world. In our point of view, the
existence of two different worlds haven't been considered in
exploration of experiencing of players, yet. The results of our study
refer a decrease in a social anxiety and loneliness in online world.
The existing research has already provided some answers to
questions related to clarifying the causes (e.g. Leung, 2011; Lo,
Wang &Fang, 2005; Morahan-Martin &Schumacher, 2003; Yee,
2006a) and consequences (e.g. Lo, Wang &Fang, 2005; Kowert &
Oldmeadow, 2013; Visser, Antheunis, and Schouten, 2013)of
found differences between two worlds. But other questions are
appeared, for example: What is the nature of changes in experi-
encing loneliness and social anxiety of new players? As a theme for
the further research may be reﬂections about a lower level of
loneliness in online environment, which, based on its deﬁnition, is
related to the development of friendly relations in this environ-
ment, however, the question is if a creation and development of
these relationships in the online environment leads to the devel-
opment of social skills, which the player can later use in a creating
new relationships in the real environment. Following this, we
present our reﬂection about the search of alternatives to the
MMORPGs in speciﬁc cases, when MMORPGs function as a substi-
tution of a real world for a satisfaction of particular human needs.
MMORPG games and online games in general are usually viewed in
black-and-white terms; either as undesirable and having negative
inﬂuence on players or as possibly carrying certain beneﬁts. How-
ever, evaluations of MMORPG games should be presented together
with other signiﬁcant considerations; for example, if MMORPG
games/online gaming are evaluated as negative, it is necessary to
add some suggestions such as; what steps should be taken in order
to motivate individuals not to become players and play for 50 h a
week, or how and what alternative should be created that would be
equally attractive to online game environment, which would make
players feel comfortable and enable them to make friends and
communicate with others easily. Especially for socially unskilled
individuals (Kowert &Oldmeadow, 2013) communication with a
large number of partners in the virtual environment and online
gaming itself is beneﬁcial for socialization (Kowert &Oldmeadow,
2015; Visser, Antheunis &Schouten, 2013). Many friendships
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134132
made online then expand into the real world (Domahidi, Festl, &
Quandt, 2014). As noted by Kowert, Vogelgesang, Festl, and
Quandt (2015, p. 56), “it can be concluded that online video
games exposure and non-problematic engagement is not a risk
factor for low self-esteem, low sociability, or increased loneliness
for adolescent or adult players“.
Following is a discussion offered by the authors of the present
study. We think, that one of the main beneﬁts of MMORPG is that it
may act as a form of loneliness intervention. Luhmann, Sch€
Hawkley, and Cacioppo (2014) state that loneliness intervention
literature addressed four main types of interventions: (1)
enhancing social skills, (2) providing social support, (3) increasing
opportunities for social interaction, and (4) addressing maladaptive
social cognition. MMORPG is believed to address the ﬁrst three
types of intervention. Speaking about the alternative to online
gaming, it is necessary to understand players’motivation to play. If
the online environment acts only as a substitute for the real envi-
ronment, then the activities focused on social skill development
and loneliness, and social anxiety treatment and prevention seem
to be beneﬁcial. It may be useful to mention a case study conducted
by King, Valenca, Silva, Baczynski, Carvalho, and Nardi (2013),in
which a social phobia patient used computer games and online
world environment as a means of forming relationships and
maintaining communication with other people; and once the pa-
tient was successfully treated with medication and CBT treatment,
the time he spent in online world has decreased while his exposure
to real-life situations has increased. If players are motivated to play
just for fun, an alternative is not needed as computer games can be
a way of spending leisure time just like making paper models or
playing table tennis.
Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (2014). World of Warcraft
surpasses 10 million sub-
scribers as warlords of Draenor™launch begins. Available at http://blizzard.
Caplan, S. E. (2007). Relations among loneliness, social anxiety, and problematic
Internet use. CyberPsychology &Behavior, 10(2), 234e242.
Cohen, J. (1977). Statistical power analysis for behavioral sciences. New York: Aca-
Cole, H., & Grifﬁths, M. D. (2007). Social interactions in massively multiplayer online
role-playing gamers. CyberPsychology &Behavior, 10,575e583.
Connor, K. M., Davidson, J. R. D., Churchill, L. E., Sherwood, A., Foa, E., & Wesler, R. H.
(2000). Psychometric properties of the social phobia inventory (SPIN). British
Journal of Psychiatry, 176,379e386.
Crozier, W. R., & Alden, L. E. (2001). International handbook of social anxiety: Con-
cepts, research and interventions relating to the self and shyness. Chichester: John
Wiley &Sons, LTD.
Domahidi, E., Festl, R., & Quandt, T. (2014). To dwell among gamers: Investigating
the relationship between social online game use and gaming-related friend-
ships. Computers in Human Behavior, 35,107e115 .
Dunlop, W. P., Cortina, J. M., Vaslow, J. B., & Burke, M. J. (1996). Meta-analysis of
experiments with matched groups or repeated measures designs. Psychological
Erath, S. A., Flanagan, K. S., & Bierman, K. L. (2007). Social anxiety and peer relations
in early adolescence: Behavioral and cognitive factors. Journal of Abnormal Child
Psychology, 35, 405e416. http://link.springer.com/journal/10802.
Gilbert, R. L. (2011). The P.R.O.S.E. Project: A program of in-world behavioral
research on the Metaverse. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 4(1), 3e18.
Grifﬁths, M. D., Davies, M. N. O., & Chappell, D. (2004). Online computer gaming: A
comparison of adolescent and adult gamers. Journal of Adolescence, 27(1),
Jones, W. H., Rose, J., & Russell, D. (1990). Loneliness and social anxiety. In
H. Leitenberger (Ed.), Handbook of social and evaluation anxiety. New York:
Springer ScienceþBusiness Media.
Kardefelt-Winther, D. (2014). Problematizing excessive online gaming and its psy-
chological predictors. Computers in Human Behavior, 31,118e122.
King, A. L. S., Valenca, A. M., Silva, A. C. O., Baczynski, T., Carvalho, M. R., &
Nardi, A. E. (2013). Nomophobia: Dependency on virtual environments or social
phobia? Computers in Human Behavior, 29,140e14 4.
Kowert, R., & Oldmeadow, J. A. (2013). (A)Social reputation: Exploring the rela-
tionship between online video game involvement and social competence.
Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1872e1878.
Kowert, R., & Oldmeadow, J. A. (2015). Playing for social comfort: Online video game
play as a social accommodator for the insecurely attached. Computers in Human
Behavior, 53, 556e566. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.05.004.
Kowert, R., Vogelgesang, J., Festl, R., & Quandt, T. (2015). Psychosocial causes and
consequences of online video game play. Computers in Human Behavior, 45,
Kozlov, M. D., & Johansen, M. K. (2010). Real behavior in virtual environments:
Psychology experiments in a simple virtual-reality paradigm using video
games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13(6), 711e714.
Lee, B. W., & Stapinski, L. A. (2012). Seeking safety on the internet: Relationship
between social anxiety and problematic internet use. Journal of Anxiety Disor-
Leitenberg, H. (1990). Handbook of social and evaluation anxiety. New York: Springer
Leung, L. (2011). Loneliness, social support, and preference for online social inter-
action: The mediating effects of identity experimentation online among chil-
dren and adolescents. Chinese Journal of Communication, 4(4), 381e399.
Longman, H., O'Connor, E., & Obst, P. (2009). The effect of social support derived
from World of Warcraft on negative psychological symptoms. CyberPsychology
&Bahvior, 12(5), 563e566.
social anxiety among online game players. CyberPsychology &Behavior, 8(1),
Luhmann, M., Sch€
onbrodt, F. D., Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2015). Loneliness
and social behaviours in a virtual social environment. Cognition and Emotion,
cik, M. (2015). e-Sports: Playing just for fun or playing to satisfy life goals?
Computers in Human Behavior, 48, 208e211.
Morahan-Martin, J., & Schumacher, P. (2003). Loneliness and social uses of the
internet. Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 659e671.
Partala, T. (2011). Psychological needs and virtual worlds: Case Second Life. Inter-
national Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 69, 787e800.
Peplau, L. A. (1988). Loneliness: New directions in research. Participate in the
challenge of mental health and psychiatric nursing in 1988 (pp. 127e142). In
Proceedings of the 3rd National Conference on Psychiatric Nursing (Montreal,
Reer, F., & Kr€
amer, N. C. (2014). Underlying factors of social capital acquisition in the
context of online-gaming: Comparing World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike.
Computers in Human Behavior, 36,179e189.
Russell, D., Peplau, L. A., & Ferguson, M. L. (1978). Developing a measure of lone-
liness. Journal of Personality Assessment, 42, 290e294.
van Rooij, A. J., Schoenmakers, T. M., van den Eijnden, R. J. J. M., Vermulst, A. A., &
van de Mheen, D. (2014). Friendship quality matters for multiplayer gamers:
The role of online and real-life friendship quality in the relationship between
game addiction and psychological well-being in a sample of adolescent online
gamers. In T. Quandt, & S. Kr €
oger (Eds.), Multiplayer: The social aspects of digital
gaming. Oxon: Routledge.
Schlenker, B. R., & Leary, M. R. (1982). Social anxiety and self-presentation: A
conceptualization and model. Psychological Bulletin, 92,641e669.
Shalom, J. G., Israeli, H., Markovitzky, O., & Lipsitz, J. D. (2015). Social anxiety and
physiological arousal during computer mediated vs. face to face communica-
tion. Computers in Human Behavior, 44, 202e208.
Shaw, L. H., & Gant, L. M. (2002). In defense of the internet: The relationship be-
tween internet communication and depression, loneliness, self-esteem, and
perceived social support. CyberPsychology &Behavior, 5(2), 157e171.
Slater, M., Antley, A., Davison, A., Swapp, D., Guger, C., Barker, C., et al. (2006).
A virtual reprise of the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments. PLoS ONE, 1(1),
Snodgrass, J. G., Lacy, M. G., Dengah, H. J. F., II, & Fagan, J. (2011). Enhancing one life
rather than living two: Playing MMOs with ofﬂine friends. Computers in Human
Behavior, 27, 1211e1222.
Stanney, K. M., Hale, K. S., & Zyda, M. (2015). Virtual environments in the 21st
century. In K. S. Hale, & K. M. Stanney (Eds.), Handbook of virtual environments:
Design, implementation, and applications. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Asso-
Trepte, S., Reinecke, K., & Juechems, K. (2012). The social side of gaming: How
playing online computer games creates online and ofﬂine social support.
Computers in Human Behavior, 28(3), 832e839.
Visser, M., Antheunis, M. J., & Schouten, A. P. (2013). Online communication and
social well-being: How playing World of Warcraft affects players' social
competence and loneliness. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43, 1508e1517.
Wei, H., Chen, M., Huang, P., & Bai, Y. (2012). The association between online
gaming, social phobia, and depression: An internet survey. BMC Psychiatry,
Weiss, R. S. (1973). Loneliness: The experience of emotional and social isolation.
Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Whang, L. S.-M., & Chang, G. Y. (2004). Lifestyles of virtual world residents: Living in
the on-line game ‘‘Lineage’’.Cyberpsychology &Behavior, 7(5), 592e600.
Williams, D., Ducheneaut, N., Xiong, L., Zhang, Y., Yee, N., & Nickell, E. (2006). From
tree house to barracks: The social life of guilds in World of Warcraft. Games and
Culture, 1(4), 338e361.
Yee, N. (2006a). The demographics, motivations and derived experiences of users of
massively-multiuser online graphical environments. Presence: Teleoperators and
Virtual Environments, 15, 309e329.
Yee, N. (2006b). The psychology of MMORPGs: Emotional investment, motivations,
relationship formation, and problematic usage. In R. Schroeder, & A. Axelsson
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134 133
(Eds.), Avatars at work and play: Collaboration and interaction in shared virtual
environments (pp. 187e207). London: Springer-Verlag.
Yen, J. Y., Yen, C. F., Chen, C. S., Wang, P. W., Chang, Y. H., & Ko, C. (2012). Social
anxiety in online and real-life interaction and their associated factors.
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15,7e12.
Zhong, Z.-J. (2011). The effects of collective MMORPG (massively multiplayer online
role-playing games) play on gamers' online and ofﬂine social capital. Computers
in Human Behavior, 27,2352e2363.
cik, J. Lok
sa / Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016) 127e134134