Playing social network games online can sometimes make you feel like you have wasted away your time and distracted yourself from more important things in life. However, if you were playing these online social network games (SNGs) like Farmville on Facebook for example with your mom, dad or Aunt Susan, you were actually strengthening family bonds.

New research that has been published in Information, Communication and Society demonstrates that SNGs offer family members a new and meaningful way of interaction that allows them to meet social obligations.

“Maintaining those connections is especially important as families find themselves dispersed across countries and continents,” says senior author Mia Consalvo. “SNGs give families a convenient and cheap way to transcend geographical boundaries.”

The study surveyed a group of social network gamers using questionnaires and follow up interviews in order to find out what it means to interact with family members via these SNGs. What the study found was that SNGs allow families to share a common topic of conversation, which in turn can enhance the quality of time spent together even though most of these games do not involve any direct communication. The online games also provide a way to bring together family members that are distantly connected. This was seen from the respondents’ experiences such as connecting with long-lost cousins for example.

Online games also break down the borders of the trans-generational nature in communication and age barriers.

“It’s not just siblings in their early 20s using SNGs to connect. Grandfathers are playing online games with granddaughters, mothers with sons. These multi-generational interactions prove social networks are tools that break down both communication and age barriers,” says co-author Kelly Boudreau.

Online social games have become the future of family gaming. For example Candy Crush has increasingly become a replacement for traditional board games and these SNGs have become a very important way to interact socially. It is also a doorway of unexplored opportunities for game designers.

“Families that play together play the longest and have the greatest sense of duty to one another as players,” says Consalvo. “That behaviour could extend the life of these games beyond what it would be if only friends or strangers were playing together. Designers should keep that in mind as they design the next generation of SNGs.”