One in 10 people who regularly play online computer games start a physical relationship with a fellow enthusiast, it was revealed today.
Researchers say their findings dispel the myth that gaming addicts are introverted loners, claiming many gamers meet life-long friends and partners in their virtual worlds.
A study by Nottingham Trent University showed nearly 50 per cent of players meet up in real life and many of these embark on a relationship.
Researchers at the university’s social sciences department quizzed 1,000 gamers from across the world to assess the impact their online addiction had on their real lives.
They discovered more than 30 per cent of participants found themselves attracted to another player and 40 per cent would choose to discuss sensitive issues with online friends rather than their real-life peers.
Professor Mark Griffiths said: ‘This study has revealed many aspects of Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (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.’
Female players are more likely to find themselves attracted to others in their online circle and were happier to meet up and go on dates with people they meet through computer games, the researchers found.
Only one in five participants said online games had a negative effect on their relationships if their partner was not a player.
‘As well as making good friends online, 81 per cent of gamers play with real-life friends and family, suggesting MMORPGs are by no means an asocial activity, nor are the players socially introverted,’ Prof Griffiths said.
‘The virtual world that these games offer allows 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.
‘They also offer a place where teamwork, encouragement and fun can all be experienced.’
The study found, on average, gamers spend more than 22 hours a week playing online. More than 30 per cent said it allowed them to be more themselves than they were able to in real life.
The full study, Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gamers, is published in the US journal CyberPsychology and Behavior.
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