School of Computer Science

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Szymon Olejarnik

PhD Candidate,


Research Summary

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

Keywords: video games, wellbeing, social functioning, video game psychology


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

Recent Publications

Past Research

My past research, conducted at University College London, was primarily focused on the psychology of video games.

My Bachelor's thesis, published in Frontiers in Psychology, investigated the relationship between violent video games and aggression dimesions. We measured violent video game choice based on players' favourite video games using the corresponding PEGI ratings. This was then mediated and regressed onto aggression dimensions, alongside narcissism and aggression. We found that violent video games were significantly related to verbal aggression and hostility. This also held true for narcissism and self-esteem. I recommended that PEGI ratings be legally enforcable in the countries of operation, as well as that PEGI ratings be revised to be more informative and in-depth. This paper was picked up by international media (PsyPost, Tom's Hardware, PresseCitron, Femina) as well as podcasts (Outside the Screen).

My Master's thesis, currently being submitted for publication, investigated the differences in emotional intensity and bodily representation between first-person and third-person virtual reality. We measured disgust, threat and danger intensity in response to combat in The Witcher 3 from both 1st and 3rd person perspectvie. We found that first-person yielded stronger emotional intensities than third-person, and that different immersion mechanisms accounted for this difference (embodiment for 1st person; body transfer for 3rd person). I recommended that 3rd person virtual reality experiences be applied to phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment paradigms, for example systematic desensitisation, to allow for more gradual courses of treatment.

I also had the privilege of working at SpiersLab, state of the art navigation research lab at University College London. I worked on the project that aimed to establish a baseline of navigation performance. In this project, we tested navigation ability in vivo and in vitro. We first navigation administered trials in Sea Hero Quest, a navigation mobile video game. We then followed the same participants who first walked streets of London using Google Maps, and then were asked to navigate to landmarks without Google Maps, from memory.

School of Computer Science

University of Nottingham
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

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