Research suggests that family communication improves if the group are playing online video games together, but if a single member is gaming, it suffers greatly as the gaming becomes a substitute for healthy communication.
That sounds like a call any counselor could make, but it's an important finding in the changing nature of family relationships in the digital age, and one that suggests parents should join their children's online pursuits rather than stand apart from them or nag the kids about how much they play.
The study is by Cuihua Shen of the University of Texas and Dmitri Williams of the University of Southern California, whose work has been discussed on Kotaku before. They examined self-reported data from 5,000 families asked to play Everquest 2. Gamers who played with family members reported more family communication time (though it may not be as "nurturing" as more conventional family discussion). Gamers who played alone saw largely the opposite effects.
Notably, those who spent most of their time in Everquest 2 reported that they felt a better sense of community online, but increased loneliness offline. The report also used data from Sony Online Entertainment to analyse players' online behaviour.
This isn't a prescription to go play MMOs. On the whole, Everquest 2 was viewed as a negative effect on family communication, at least mitigated if more than one family member was playing.
"Playing MMOs can be good for your psychosocial health but it really depends on the purpose, context and type of players," Shen told US News & World Report. "There really are a lot of nuances."
Online Gaming With Real-World Friends Is Healthier: Study [US News & World Report]