We are in the middle of a global epidemic of loneliness. As far back as ten years ago the World Health Organization began to track loneliness in its global health studies. By 2018, the United Kingdom had actually appointed a minister of loneliness to look in on the elderly, who were thought to be the most susceptible demographic segment..

Young People are the Loneliest

Look again. At least in the United States, the loneliest  people are 18 to 22. They’ve handily overtaken the elderly, and their loneliness has been described as contributing to anxiety, school shootings, suicide and depression. A study of San Diego college students done by Cambridge University found that 76% of the participants had moderate to high levels of loneliness up from just 17% in prior annual UCSD studies. Moreover, moderate loneliness is associated with worse mental and physical functioning.

Is Gaming to Blame?

Go ahead. Blame video games. After all, they’re blamed for just about everything else, right? However, a recent Cigna study was unable to prove a correlation between phone use of any kind and loneliness.

Anecdotal information from GameTree, an app that uses artificial intelligence to match gamers with partners reports that young people think gaming can be both a cause and an effect of the loneliness epidemic.  it’s easier to find a date nowadays than someone to play a game with, they reveal. 

Gaming Has Changed

 Gaming, which used to be a source of connection,  has become lonely and toxic activity as the gaming universe grows. The odds of meeting people who play the same games as you do or making friends wanting to play the same games have decreased as the number of games increases. The STEAM platform alone saw an annual increase in games added from six in 2005 to 9050 in 2018.

It’s also difficult to switch to playing games with existing (IRL) friends because of increased learning curves and game investments If you have spent hours playing one game, you are almost locked into that game, because. games now require a player to have more skills than in the past. You must  learn the nuances of each game, and unless it’s a game where money can help you “level up,” it require hours of grinding to unlock skills levels and acquire the tools and weapons to have a fair playing experience

Thus gaming has devolved from an activity with friends on community servers to solo online play with other players acting as substitutes for artificial intelligence bots, and rampant loneliness stands out as a top related gaming issue in multiple GameTree surveys of both users and non-users. Gametree added a specific question about loneliness to each of its user surveys after numerous free response write-in replies. On the new question,  60% of gamers gave “playing with more courteous, less toxic people a top rating out of four choices.”

Find the Right Players, and Gaming is a Solution

But gaming can also be part of the solution to this loneliness. The popularity of World of Warcraft is attributed primarily to its social value, which is why it is featured so prominently in Stranger Things. Dungeons & Dragons, a hyper-social pen & paper game, has reached peak popularity with 13.7 million active players worldwide and double digit merchandise sales growth for each of the last five years And even on game streaming platform Twitch, the #1 most popular content category is now “just chatting”