Oxford University study: Video games can be good for well-being

People who play video games for long periods of time tend to report feeling happier than those who do not, according to experts’ research about Animal Crossing and Plants vs. Zombies titles.

The work also showed that collaborations with gaming industry partners can be done to high academic standards in an ethical and transparent way.
The work also showed that collaborations with gaming industry partners can be done to high academic standards in an ethical and transparent way.

A groundbreaking, first of its kind study from Oxford University has delivered a surprising finding: time spent playing games is positively associated with well-being. The new investigation gathered industry data on actual play time from popular video games Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville (Electronic Arts) and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo).

The study ‘Video game play is positively correlated with well-being’ (https://psyarxiv.com/qrjza/) was developed by Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre and Andrew K. Przybylski, from Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK. It used telemetry data and survey responses from 518 players of PvsZ and 2,756 players of AC (a total of 3,274 gamers). The surveys were conducted between August and October.

The work suggests that experiences of competence and social connection with others through play may contribute to people’s happiness. Indeed, those who derived enjoyment from playing were more likely to report experiencing positive wellbeing. These experiences during play may be even more important than the actual amount of time a player invests in games and could play a major role in the comfort of players.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute and lead-author of the study, said: “Previous research has relied mainly on self-report surveys to study the relationship between play and well-being. Without objective data from games companies, those proposing advice to parents or policymakers have done so without the benefit of a robust evidence base. Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a persons’ well-being.”

In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health, and excessive regulation over 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 peoples’ playing time, for the first time we could investigate the relation between actual game play behavior and subjective well-being, enabling us to deliver a template for crafting high-quality evidence to support health policymakers. The study explored the association between objective game time and well-being, examining the link between directly measured behavior and subjective mental health. It also explored the roles of player experiences, specifically how feelings of autonomy, relatedness, competence, enjoyment and feeling pressured to play related to well-being.”

40 years of previous research had suggested the longer people played, the more unhappy they said they were. The academic suggested that one reason for the discrepancy of their study might be that both of these games had social features, in which players interacted with characters controlled by other humans.

Przybylski called on other games-makers to share similar data. “We need to study more games, and more players, over more time. It would be like letting psychologists study all the playgrounds in the world. We might build a theory of bullying or learn how people build new friendships. My hope is that this fosters curiosity and collaboration and open data,” he explained.