A new study conducted by researchers at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, and published in U.S. journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, has found that three quarters of online role-playing gamers make good friends with the people they meet in their virtual worlds, with almost half meeting in real-life situations and one in ten going on to develop physical relationships.
Other findings from the study, entitled "Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gamers" indicate that more than 30 percent of participants found themselves attracted to another player and 40 percent chose to discuss sensitive issues with online friends rather than their real-life friends.
One in five participants believed that massively multiplayer role-playing games (MMORPGs) had a negative effect on their relationships if their partner was not a player, while more than two-thirds felt they had a positive effect on their relationships with those who did play.
Women were significantly more likely than men to be attracted to other players and were far more likely to go on to date them. Most women gave "therapeutic refreshment" as their main reason for playing, whereas most men stated "curiosity, astonishment and interest" as their reasons. Around a third of gamers suggested they could be more themselves in the game than in real life.
The study interviewed almost 1,000 online gamers from across the world and found that the average number of hours played per week was 22.85. The most popular MMORPG in the study was World of WarCraft, with almost half of participants naming it their favorite game.
Professor Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University's School of Social Sciences, said: "This study has revealed many aspects of MMORPGs that were not known before. Previous research has suggested that gamers are socially inactive, but MMORPGs are actually extremely social games, with high percentages of gamers making life-long friends and even partners."
"As well as making good friends online, 81% of gamers play with real-life friends and family, suggesting MMORPGs are by no means an asocial activity, nor are the players socially introverted," he added. "The virtual world that these games offer, allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, age, or other factors."