How Play & Games Are Crucial to Strengthening Human Connection

Play and games are a powerful tool when the goal is to stay more connected and strengthen your relationships – everyone wins.

by | Dec 9, 2021

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Online gaming has been historically perceived as an “antisocial behavior” that negatively impacts human connection. Today, this narrative is evolving based on extensive psychology research suggesting that online game playing is actually a powerful tool for helping people engage in meaningful social interaction and increasing perceived social support. If we think of playing games at the most basic level, games are about play.

The concept of engaging in play and games through technology is beneficial when it facilitates conversation; connection with people. It can help to break down communication barriers, like answering prompts, and teach us how to share thoughts instead of sharing actual things (i.e., posting random things on social media). However, it’s important to note that these benefits only arise when used in an intentional way to supplement or complement our interactions.

Playing games can also spur moments self-reflection. Consider the thought process upon receiving a prompt when playing a card game with a friend. When we’re in a reflective state, we heavily recruit the part of our brain called the “medial prefrontal cortex” that helps differentiate ourselves from others. When activated regularly, this region of the brain allows us to be more receptive to beliefs of others, which is how we uncover shared values thus strengthening our human connections.

How Online Gaming Builds the Bridge to Human Connection

Role of Games

Online gaming fills in the gaps of social resources for people where everyday, in-person social interactions aren’t easily accessible. They bring people, who have a shared interest or goal, together with thoughtful prompts and playful activities. In other words, it creates opportunities for bonding. A key aspect of online gaming that creates human connection are the social features that allow users to connect directly via chat with other players. Think of it like a digital water-cooler.

When played with friends and family, games can help enable each person to develop a new way of listening and deeper understanding of each other, thus resulting in stronger relationships.

They also make for an attractive way to form connections as they afford considerable flexibility and limit the stress and anxiety of working around schedules when played asynchronously.

Role of Play

At its core, play affords people the opportunity to discover and explore. According to the National Institute for Play, “play is as critical to the development of a human being as sleep and nutrition.” It strengthens the connection in our brains that controls our ability to regulate emotions and solve problems. One study found that engaging in play for just twenty minutes a day could improve mood, quality of sleep, and reduce stress.

Play and exploration can also support the growth and maintenance of brain cells. When we learn something new through the act of play it makes it easier to achieve a flow state as it creates a psychological experience of being happy and totally immersed in what we’re doing. Whether in a team setting or paired with another person, relationships help build unique patterns of brain activity that trigger the self-reflective region of the brain that gives us the ability to empathize, resulting in higher levels of brain-to-brain synchrony. When we’re in a state of play that makes us feel happier and puts us in a flow state, it creates a space to be more open, vulnerable, and feel safe to explore difficult emotions.

Social Support Benefits

• Creates space to be more vulnerable
• Increases empathy
• Initiates a self-reflective state to explore difficult emotions
• Promotes mindfulness
• Teaches how to confidently express your needs and feelings
• Enhances ability to openly express appreciation and compassion
• Improves mood and focus

Well-Being Benefits

• Improves emotion regulation
• Decreases depression and loneliness
• Reduces stress anxiety
• Increases self-esteem

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