Videogames & Loneliness: Mass Effect (and more)

Mass-Effect: How Video Games Change Us

I have many fond memories of playing video games, but the ones that nestle up against the forefront of my mind always involve other people. I remember the Christmas I got my first Play Station, my stepdad, then just mom’s boyfriend, sat with me to beat the first boss in Kingdom Hearts. He was horrible. I was worse. Our shared frustration, and our eventual victory, brought us closer together. I remember playing Tekken Tag at my dad’s apartment in NYC a few weeks before 9/11, eating cherry flavored gummies, laughing as my Julia Chang knocked out his HeiHachi Mishima. After he lost a close friend in the tragedy, we played Tekken again in an effort to stave off his pain, cuddled on the couch, jamming buttons quietly in solidarity.  Recently, a good friend of mine broke up with her partner. We’ve been playing A Night In the Woods to mitigate her feelings of heartache.

With memories like these it’s hard for me to believe that video games and loneliness are unequivocally synonymous. Video games provide opportunities for friends, family, and strangers to embark on adventures together. Even single-player games provide escapism for their users in the same way books whisk readers away. MMO’s (massive multiplayer) and RPG’s (role playing games) benefit from creating a feeling of community, and generating subcultures full of their own inside jokes and memes. I believe video games often serve as a tool for people to connect to one another as opposed to serving as a social barrier. To back up this belief, I talked to some of my most immersed friends about how video games made them feel, and if those feelings included ones of loneliness. Here are their thoughts:

Mike Shuster (Fellow Writer and Barista):

What have videogames meant to you?

They provide a feeling of accomplishment, problems for me to solve, and community. I played WoW back in the day, it was alright. It wasn’t fast-paced enough. I felt like it was taking me forever to level up and I didn’t like the idea of playing after the story was over. I would have had to join up with strangers or random people to do the raids or whatever and I wasn’t in to it.

Why not?

I didn’t want other people ruining the game with spoilers and whatnot, knowing the fastest route to travel and all that. I wanted to play the game for myself. I also felt there was a pretty good chance they could be dicks.

What games were you most into?

The games I’ve been involved in the longest are Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Diablo, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Mario. Plot-wise I liked BioShock Infinite. Anything about time travel is fascinating; ones with questions of free will and determinism. Super Metroid was the most important game to me. It had so many secrets: secret passages and power-ups. It was the first game of its kind that I played where I was kind of–I wanted to find as many secrets as I could but didn’t know if it was possible and I didn’t know if I ever would. I struggled to beat it at first when I was younger but then when I grew up a bit I beat it easily. I felt smarter and confused about how I wouldn’t be able to do it before. What about me changed? I guess I’ve grown.

Justin Metz (Mechanical Engineering Major and Beat-Boxer):

Were you involved in any MMO’s or RPG’s and how did that affect you?

The Mass Effect trilogy has easily been the most influential RPG in my life. Heck, one of the most influential prices of media overall. It transported me to a world that I hope to see one day. It’s full of aliens, sex, robots, and adventure. It influenced my writing in high school and even the field that I went into in college. I have never felt lonely because of games, but rather they saved me from my loneliness at particular times in my life. 

What did video games save you from?

They saved me from depressive thoughts. I had a spout of serious depression when I was in 8th grade, one that would have been even worse if I hadn’t found consolation in Mass Effect 2. I picked up the second game first, loved it, and then went back and played Mass Effect 1. It helped me deal with the thought that I was so small in a huge universe.  Playing a character who could literally change the destiny of the universe gave me hope that I could become like that one day, even if it was in a small way.

Did seeing a Overwatch become an e-sport, viewed at bars and online, change anything about the social sphere of video games for you?

Absolutely, people are talking more openly about it. For example, the other day in Japanese class I ended up in a random conversation about Overwatch because some dude had a Overwatch League hat on. Never would have spoken to him otherwise.

Joshua Skelton (Dungeon Master Extraordinaire and Mechanical Engineer Major):

What have video games meant to you?

Video games don’t really mean any one thing to me, any more than ‘books’ or ‘movies’ as distinct forms of media mean something to me. Different games exist for different reasons, and they mean something different depending on what they are.  Plenty of games have a special place in my heart. Really difficult games, like Dark Souls or Mega Man, were challenges to be overcome, and are trophies that I take pride in. Others like Shadow of the Colossus were fun to play, sure, but really shone through in the story. As far as what the entire form of media means to me, personally, I love how it allows the consumer to immerse themselves in the story, rather than just watch it play out.

Were you involved in any MMO’s or RPG’s and how did that effect you?

I’ve recently gotten involved in an MMO, against my better judgement. I was very convinced I could manage it maturely and not get addicted, but I was so wrong. It ends up taking a lot of time, because there’s something satisfying about a hard-won level advancement. I can still manage my life, of course, but a big part of why I continue playing are the friends I’ve made even in my relatively short time. MMO’s are games that are intended to be enjoyed by massive audiences, together. The ‘right’ way to play them is with a group, and that makes them an intensely social experience.

Have you ever felt lonely because of video games or have you turned to them in moments of loneliness?

I wouldn’t call video games themselves responsible for feelings of loneliness any more than I’d point at some other form of entertainment. In fact, video games are among the most social things I do, or have ever done. They provide something to talk about with friends, something to do together that’s accessible and satisfying. As for turning to video games when I felt lonely, sure. They’re excellent distractions, and immersing yourself in a story is a good way to cope with that.


Rather than causing or intensifying feelings of loneliness, video games can give hope to those who are feeling wearisome, stories to inspire those who are feeling aimless, and a fun experience to those who are feeling downtrodden. When I started this piece, I thought it was going to be about my personal revelations whilst playing games or the comfort they provided me in moments of strife—but as I started talking about my ideas for this article with friends, I realized their stories mirrored mine. Sometimes with higher stakes in tow. In the end, I felt theirs were more important to share. Video games ultimately provide their players with a way to connect to others, or, more deeply with themselves.

Submit a comment