The Power of Play: Gen Z’s Cure to Loneliness


Lorenzo Perosino, Strategist at We Are Social Netherlands, explains how Gen Z have been labelled ‘The Lonely Generation’, and how they are using gaming as a way to form meaningful connections.

As the newest generation of consumers, Gen Z is under scrutiny by brands and agencies seeking to understand their unique ways of thinking and self-made set of social values. This complexity makes it challenging for brands to establish genuine connections with them, so the quest to understand Gen Z has resulted in countless studies, reports, focus groups, interviews, and more. However, these studies often come with oversimplified labels, with a touch of old-fashioned “back-in-my-day” judgement. 

Gen Z values individual expression – so they label them “selfish.” Gen Z mobilise themselves for various causes – and get called “self-righteous.”, and they believe profoundly in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts, so they’re “overly-sensitive.” With each study comes a new label; “digital natives”, “anti-work”, “horoscope lovers”.

Amidst the varied interpretations, a shared truth emerges – loneliness. Loneliness has become a prevalent issue among Gen Z, leading to concerns about disconnection and solitude. Data reveals the struggle younger generations are facing when forming genuine connections, which has led to one of the few enduring labels: “The Lonely Generation.”

Gen Z and the Loneliness Epidemic

Gen Z’s struggle with loneliness is striking. According to Psychology Today, a staggering 73% of Gen Z individuals admit to feeling alone either sometimes or always. In stark contrast, only 24% of Baby Boomers reported experiencing such levels of loneliness at a similar age. Business Insider’s research further reveals that 60% of Gen Z has felt the grip of loneliness within the past year.

Additionally, an alarming 30% of young people confess they are unsure how to make new friends (Vice, 2022), heightening their feelings of isolation. Schools have witnessed this phenomenon too – between 2012 and 2018, institutions reported nearly double the number of high school students worldwide expressing their sense of loneliness compared to the previous decade (KQED, 2022).

It’s evident that this is not a drill – there is a generational loneliness epidemic that is plaguing Gen Z. Most people attribute this to new technologies, arguing that the digital world has swallowed our most intimate moments and that relationships and connections have been forced to change and adapt.

Yet amidst questionable selfies and even more questionable Tinder bios, an unlikely digital hero arises, wielding a controller and armed with joysticks – video games have emerged as a surprising refuge for Gen Z, offering them avenues to connect and find new companions.

The Unexpected Savior: Video Games

Studies reveal a captivating trend that narrates how video games are the unexpected remedy for this generational isolation. Where video games were once a form of isolation themselves, the paradigm has completely shifted today, making them a prime source of connection, immersion, and interaction. Gamefluencers played a crucial part in this shift, transforming the connotations of the term gamer from ‘loser’ and ‘nerd’ to ‘streamer’ and ‘content creator’ – which to Gen Z, are synonymous with ‘celebrity’.  

Twitch, the number 1 platform for Gamefluencers, grew its viewership by 45% in 2021, with the number of hours watched amounting to 24 billion hours. On top of this, the strong community-based approach of streamers makes followers of Gamefluencers far more loyal and more likely to trust the brand recommendations and advice given by influencers: 66% trust game influencers vs 59% for influencers on other platforms. (Yougov, 2021)

Because online communities foster strong interpersonal relationships built on a shared interest, they reinforce social relationships with the streamer and between viewers. That’s why 71% of Twitch users say that watching a stream during a difficult period of their lives helped them cope (Frontiers, 2020).

These Gamefluencers make their communities feel connected and heard, so what does this say about the power of playing video games? Bloomberg’s findings highlight that 84% of respondents believe that video games help them establish connections with like-minded individuals. That’s why Gen Z gamers dedicate twice as much time to hanging out with friends within the digital realms than they do in real life, according to Accenture. These virtual spaces provide a sense of belonging and camaraderie, enabling gamers to forge meaningful relationships beyond the confines of their physical environment.

Whilst camaraderie and shared moments are fundamental to how Gen Z is building these online connections, the roots of this phenomenon go further than the superficial fun we can experience in video games. In fact, a large part of the phenomenon lies not in how people find each other in games, but rather, in how people find themselves.

The allure of video games extends beyond mere connection. Accenture’s research reveals that 52% of Gen Z gamers “feel more genuine and true to themselves” within digital spaces compared to real life. Their in-game personas become a truer expression of their identity, allowing them to explore and embrace aspects of themselves that may be hidden or constrained in their everyday lives. 

Need the cherry on top? Check this.

Video games serve as a digital sanctuary, where Gen Z can temporarily detach themselves from their worries and immerse in captivating worlds or engage in new social connections.

Beyond the quest for connection and self-discovery, video games offer valuable psychological benefits to Gen Z. An overwhelming 77% of Gen Z gamers cite stress and anxiety relief as their primary motive for gaming, providing them with an immersive escape from the challenges of everyday life. Another 40% say it gives them self-confidence. (Vice, 2022)

Overall, it’s clear that Gen Z’s battle with loneliness finds an unexpected ally within the realm of video games. As these young individuals navigate a world of disconnection and solitude, they have discovered a haven where they can connect, express their authentic selves, and find relief from the pressures of everyday life. The influence of video games on their well-being is an intriguing phenomenon that sheds light on the power of digital spaces to shape relationships and foster a sense of belonging. So, next time you see a Gen Z gamer engrossed in their virtual adventures, remember that behind the screen might lie a profound quest for connection, authenticity, and respite from the lonely journey of “The Lonely Generation.”

What does this mean for brands?

Video games have become a social safe space for Gen Z to connect. The question now becomes, how can brands make the best of this paradigm?

The short answer is easy to spot through research:

Looking further, brands need to start by looking at their values, finding strong links to the culture and values of gamers to co-create experiences that are authentic and purposeful. Well-executed activations in this world have the potential to build brand awareness and drive sales, truly resonate with players, and connect with an audience that has proven to be extremely hard to connect with. 

Regardless of the format, what’s important is that brands keep their ideas grounded on the three core values of gaming: community, joyful interactions, and inclusion.

Read the We Are Social Gameluencers report for a more detailed guide on how to connect with audiences.