February 2, 2024

Gaming & Connection Building: How online communities empower students to play to their core

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

When Pong, the first video game ever released, hit the shelves in 1972, no one could have predicted the phenomenon that would follow video games for years to come. Gaming has come a long way since 1972. Across the United States, approximately 212 million people regularly engage in video gaming. In fact, a 2020 report found that 90% of students actively participate as gamers each day.

Yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg. For many students, gaming has become part of their social world and how they interact with their peers. With the introduction of activities such as Esports and streaming, there is significant excitement that gaming holds for students. In October of 2023, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) discussed the possibility of adding Esports to the Olympics. This move came fresh from an immensely successful Olympic Esports week; over 6 million people tuned in to watch. 

In many ways, gaming isn’t just about playing games — gaming is a phenomenon that brings students together. Research says gaming communities can be like a “third place, where friendships can grow into lifelong bonds. These online friendships are as meaningful as the ones we make in person. Dive deeper into gaming as we examine video games’ potential social, mental, and practical benefits and what educators should know.

The benefits of gaming atmospheres in schools 

Gaming communities play a significant role in making friends and connecting with others. They help students socialize and build relationships. Research from the Pew Research Center reveals that over half of students have formed new friendships online, with approximately one-third (36%) meeting these friends while playing video games. 

But how are students connecting online? Forums on apps such as Reddit provide gamers with a platform to talk, share tips, and connect with others who share their interests. Text chats and rooms on gaming platforms enable real-time communication when games are being played. Research shows that interacting with gaming in this way can be related to building positive social skills, such as cooperation and commitment. Research also indicates that exposure to game ads can enhance memory, with gamers recalling brand names better after playing certain games.

The rise of Esports, or competitive gaming, has also gained traction within the educational environment. In 2021, U.S. colleges awarded over $16 million in esports scholarships, enhancing the growth of high school teams. Since 2018, when the National Federation of State High School Associations officially recognized esports as a sport, more than 8,600 high schools have established gaming teams.

 In high schools, Esports are an exciting prospect for students because they let students compete with one another in their favorite video games while also teaching teamwork, strategy, and leadership skills. It’s like playing sports but with video games, and it can even lead to future opportunities in the gaming industry, as seen with the rise of esports in the Olympics. 

Real-world opportunities in gaming 

In this world of interactive entertainment, students have access to many opportunities beyond just playing games. Platforms like Twitch allow them to try streaming, where they can show off their gaming skills and personalities. In 2020, Twitch found itself amid a user boom, where it clocked 5 billion hours of viewed content in only three months. This was the largest uptick in use that the company had ever had. In 2024, Twitch estimates that around 2.5 million people are on Twitch at any moment.  

Within gaming circles, students may also come face-to-face with coding and programming. These skills are helpful in plenty of different jobs. Whether it be as a software developer or as a professional advertiser, the skills present in gaming communities are everywhere. In Esports, students can compete at different levels, learning teamwork, strategy, and leadership, which are valuable skills for any job. They might even find careers as players, coaches, or event organizers in the growing Esports industry. This, without a doubt, adds excitement to their educational and professional journeys. 

Leveling up the student experience with videogames

To inspire students to navigate gaming positively, we can promote the significant impact of gaming communities on our students. These spaces serve as more than just sources of entertainment. They are platforms for social interaction, skill development, and personal growth. Whether you’re a teacher, counselor, or administrator, understanding the dynamics of gaming communities can provide valuable insights into supporting student well-being. Educators can empower students to play to their core online by encouraging students to stay true to their values, online and offline. Here’s how:

Students can promote their best interests in gaming communities by:

  1. Sharing knowledge: Contributing tips, strategies, and insights to help others improve their gaming skills and foster a supportive learning environment within the community.
  2. Finding your community: Identifying and joining gaming communities that align with personal interests, values, and gaming preferences, facilitating meaningful connections and engagement.
  3. Understanding healthy gaming practices: Educating oneself on the importance of moderation, balance, and self-care in gaming to maintain physical health, mental well-being, and academic responsibilities.
  4. Ensuring positive interactions: Promoting respectful communication, empathy, and inclusivity within the community, fostering a welcoming and supportive environment for all members to thrive.
  5. Seeking mentorship: Engaging with experienced members or mentors within the community to gain guidance, advice, and support in navigating challenges and achieving personal goals in gaming.

If you are an educator looking to further understand the positive impacts video game communities may have on your students, check out our #WinAtSocial LIVE Lesson, Building community and defying stereotypes as online gaming soars in 2024.

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question
Huddle with your students
Gaming has evolved to include more than just playing video games. Can you think of ways gaming helps people make friends and build communities? How is gaming different from other activities when creating social groups?

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.