Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Look beyond the screen: the impact of video games on online and offline social functioning and wellbeing

  Szymon Zbigniew Olejarnik (2023 cohort)   www.researchgate.net/profile/Szymon-Olejarnik


Video gaming is becoming more popular, with an estimated 3 billion gamers worldwide (Clement, 2022), and thanks to cloud gaming, video gaming is even more accessible than ever before. However, as digital devices are becoming more omnipresent, and as they become more of a replacement for face-to-face interactions (Harley, 2022), we must consider how video games impact wellbeing and social functioning. It is especially paramount to consider global wellbeing, as most of research on this matter appears to have focused on psychological wellbeing only, discounting external influences on wellbeing like social circles, employment or finances.

Impacts on wellbeing

Past literature shows that gaming has an overall positive impact on wellbeing outcomes. In studies of neurotypical players, video gaming brought about positive effects on cognitive stimulation, emotional regulation and quality of life (Barr & Copeland-Stewart, 2021; Zhao, 2022). Negative impacts revolve around the issues of increased aggression (Olejarnik and Romano, 2023) and decreased offline social capital (Tushya et al., 2023). 

Impacts on social functioning

With regard to social functioning, gaming is an instrument that allows for social interactions. This has brought about positive effects for neurotypical players (Zhao, 2022), where they report socialising as one of the motivations for gameplay (Johnson et al., 2013). The positive impacts might be only observable if online interactions do not replace offline interactions (Harley, 2022).

The gap: what is there to find out?

However, there are issues with our current understanding of video game impacts on social functioning and wellbeing. Recent studies were conducted during the coronavirus pandemic when engagement with video games was the highest and beyond pre-pandemic levels. There are no investigations into the different behaviours in the online and offline spheres. Finally, no investigations considered the differential impacts on autistic and neurotypical players. In line with the following gaps, we formed research questions that we want to tackle:

RQ1: What impact does long-term video gameplay have on wellbeing?

RQ2: What impact does long-term video gameplay have on offline and online social functioning?

RQ3: What recommendations and interventions can be offered to promote the positive impacts and target the negative impacts of video games?

The plan: how do we answer these questions?

To answer the above research questions, we devised a four-stage plan for the PhD thesis:

Stage 1: Systematic review of literature on the impact of video games on social functioning and wellbeing, devising a theoretical framework of video game impacts on wellbeing

Stage 2: Construction and validation of a global wellbeing questionnaire

Stage 3: Analysis of longitudinal gameplay behaviours, wellbeing and socialisation data using quantitative data from surveys

Stage 4: In-vivo behavioural experiments: mixed reality social interaction


Barr, M., & Copeland-Stewart, A. (2021). Playing Video Games During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Effects on Players’ Well-Being. Games and Culture, 17(1), 122–139. https://doi.org/10.1177/15554120211017036

Clement, J. (2022). Number of video game users worldwide from 2017 to 2027. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/748044/number-video-gamers-world/

Harley, D. (2022). Mindfulness in a Digital World. (1 ed.) (Palgrave Studies in Cyberpsychology). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-19407-8

Johnson, D., Jones, C., Scholes, L., & Carras, M. C. (2013). Videogames and Wellbeing: A Comprehensive Review.

Olejarnik SZ and Romano D (2023) Is playing violent video games a risk factor for aggressive behaviour? Adding narcissism, self-esteem and PEGI ratings to the debate. Front. Psychol. 14:1155807. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1155807

Pavlopoulou, G., Usher, C., & Pearson, A. (2022). ‘I can actually do it without any help or someone watching over me all the time and giving me constant instruction’: Autistic adolescent boys’ perspectives on engagement in online video gaming. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 40(4), 557–571. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/bjdp.12424

Tushya, Chhabra, D., & Abraham, B. (2023). Social Networking or Social Isolation? A Systematic Review on Socio-Relational Outcomes for Members of Online Gaming Communities. Games and Culture, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/15554120231201760

World Health Organization. (2019). 6C51 Gaming disorder. In International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http%253a%252f%252fid.who.int%252ficd%252fentity%252f1448597234

Zhao, F. (2022). The role of social video game play and relatedness in players’well-being [Master's thesis]. University of Oxford.


Olejarnik S. Z., & Romano, D. (2023) Is playing violent video games a risk factor for aggressive behaviour? Adding narcissism, self-esteem and PEGI ratings to the debate. Front. Psychol. 14:1155807. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1155807

Olejarnik, S. Z., & Romano, D. (2024). Towards the video game impacts theory: a systematic review of the impacts of video games on wellbeing and social functioning (publication pending)

Olejarnik, S. Z., & Romano, D. (2024). Developing a global wellbeing scale: the Video Game Wellbeing Questionnaire (VGWQ). (publication pending)

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).