GAMES

Video Games Can Actually Be Good for Your Mental Health, Oxford Academics Find

The study works with actual gameplay data, marking the first time ever that game developers have shared their own data with academics to know the impact of games.
November 17, 2020, 11:09am
gaming mental health
Photo courtesy of Tarun Savvy via Unsplash

The stereotype of the lonely gamer, locked away in a room for hours, ignoring mealtimes, avoiding stepping out, unpopular, asocial, unhealthy and idle is well entrenched in people’s psyche as also pop culture.

But a new study by Oxford University has revealed that video games might actually have a positive impact on the psychological well-being of the gamers. This study was one of the first to be done using actual play-time data.

For the study, the researchers analysed two popular video games: Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It included 3,274 participants, who were asked to complete a survey which was designed by the researchers “to measure well-being, self-reported play, and motivational experiences during play”. 

The results were something that everybody has been suspecting for quite some time. It was found that video games can actually make you happier. The experience that players have while playing the game was associated with positive feelings and had a positive impact on their mental health. They also created a sense of social connection for many individuals. 

“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 well-being. 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” said Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and lead author of the study, in a press release

Around the world, gaming is emerging as a dominant source of entertainment and leisure. An incredible 3.1 billion people on the planet are active gamers. In a recent study by research and consultancy agency DFC Intelligence, it emerged that around 40 percent of people on the planet game on the regular.

The new survey stands apart for the fact that instead of asking players how much they play, it used industry data on actual play time. It focussed on the association between objective game time and well-being which examined the link between directly measured behaviour and subjective mental health. “Working with Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America we’ve been able to combine academic and industry expertise,” Przybylski said. “Through access to data on peoples’ playing time, for the first time we’ve been able to investigate the relation between actual game play behaviour and subjective well-being, enabling us to deliver a template for crafting high-quality evidence to support health policymakers.”

Such data can also help countries that have a history of banning video games because of their supposedly addictive potential, without any legitimate data to connect mental health and gaming. In 2019, “gaming disorder” was added to the International Classification Of Diseases by the World Health Organization. “The discussion about video games has focused on fears about a large part of players becoming addicted,” the study said. “Given their widespread popularity, many policymakers are concerned about the negative effects of game time on well-being. Our results challenge that view.”

The study however stressed that this well-being might only be effective for people who really enjoy gaming and not for those who use gaming to escape from the “real world” that is unable to meet their psychological needs. It’s also important to note that the study only included the two all-ages games, and that the effects might be different for other games. The team also emphasised that these findings do not give a carte blanche for games. Said Przybylski, “I’m very confident that if the research goes on, we will learn about the things that we think of as toxic in games, and we will have evidence for those things as well.”

Follow Varsha on Instagram.