Gaming might actually be good for your wellbeing, study suggests
Experiencing genuine enjoyment when playing Animal Crossing led to more positive wellbeing.
Time spent playing video games can be good for your wellbeing, according to a new study which analysed data provided by games firms.
Lack of transparency from gaming companies has long been an issue for scientists hoping to better understand player behaviours, amid long-held assumptions that gaming causes aggression or addiction.
But Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America have provided the University of Oxford with information on two games, Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Both games allow players to 'meet up' via an internet connection, and neither are labelled 18+ or considered violent.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a popular choice among gamers in the first UK lockdown, when it sold more digital units in its first month of release than any other video game in history.
For the new study, players were asked to carry out a survey on their experiences which was matched up against behavioural data of participants.
Though researchers admit the study only provides a snapshot, they also say that a player’s subjective experiences during play might be a bigger factor for wellbeing than mere play time.
Some 518 players of Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville took part, while 2,756 were from Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Players experiencing genuine enjoyment from the games experience more positive wellbeing, the paper claims.
“Previous research has relied mainly on self-report surveys to study the relationship between play and wellbeing,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, lead author of the study and director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
“Without objective data from games companies, those proposing advice to parents or policymakers have done so without the benefit of a robust evidence base.”
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“Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a person’s wellbeing. In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health – and regulating video games could withhold those benefits from players.
“Working with Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America we’ve been able to combine academic and industry expertise. Through access to data on people’s playing time, for the first time we’ve been able to investigate the relation between actual game play behaviour and subjective wellbeing, enabling us to deliver a template for crafting high-quality evidence to support health policymakers.”
The research was supported by grants from the Huo Family Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council.
“Policymakers urgently require reliable, robust, and credible evidence that illuminates the influences video games may have on global mental health,” the paper concludes.
“In this study we show that collaborations with industry partners to obtain adequate data are possible. Research with these data can be done to academic standards – ethically and transparently.
“We are optimistic that collaborations of this sort will deliver the evidence required to advance our understanding of human play and provide policymakers the insights into how they might shape, for good or ill, our health.”
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Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.