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From Online Strangers to Offline Friends: A Qualitative Study of Video Game Players in Hong Kong

Sat, August 11, 8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 407

Abstract

The present study examines the impacts of video games on social relations. Qualitative data are adopted to address two research questions. First, how are online social relationships formed among video game players? Second, how do these social relationships evolve over time? Data from in-depth interviews of twenty-two Nintendo DS game players in Hong Kong show that social ties formed through video gaming experience four stages of development. In the initial stage, NDS games draw together a group of disconnected and anonymous individuals who share a common interest in the games to interact in public online platforms. Through routine online interactions, players sort out who are desirable exchange partners and who are not. This leads to the second stage of friendship formation where online strangers become online acquaintances. Social interactions would be shifted from public to private platforms and more generalized exchanges than just games would take place. As online friendship develops into the third stage, face-to-face meetings would take place, facilitating the transformation of virtual ties into real-life friendship ties and reinforce the relationships. In the final stage, these friendship ties may leave or remain in one’s social network as time goes by, subject to the availability of common interests shared by partners and life course changes. Our findings suggest that while the cyberspace overcomes the structural constraints in the formation of social ties, online social interactions cannot replace face-to-face meetings in the development of enduring social relationships. Our study also underscores the interconnectivity among the game world, virtual world, and physical world.

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