Video games and well-being: what is the verdict?

A study from the University of Oxford published Wednesday in the Royal Society Open Science found that time spent playing video games is unlikely to have a significant impact on well-being. The Oxford Internet Institute study, with nearly 40,000 individual gamers tracked for six weeks, is the largest of its kind and directly contradicts the narrative that gambling is harmful to mental health.

The Oxford study has quite a lot to do. Unlike most previous studies, they worked with game publishers to get real player data rather than relying on self-reported playtime. In collaboration with Nintendo, EA, CCP Games, Microsoft, Sony and Square Enix, the study recruited 38,935 Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Apex Legends, Online Standby, Forza Horizon 4, Gran Turismo Sports, Ridersand The crew 2 players.

Each participant was asked to complete three questionnaires, which were sent to them by e-mail. In each survey, one set of questions related to their mental well-being, and the other related to their experiences and motivations for gambling. Participants answered these questions at the start of the study, at two weeks and at four weeks. The researchers used each participant’s gaming data during the two weeks prior to each survey to study the effect, if any, of each gamer’s time spent gaming on their mental health.

After analyzing the numbers, the research team found that time spent gaming had a “negligible” effect on mental wellbeing. Data from the study suggests that the average gamer would need to play 10 hours longer than they usually do each day for there to be a noticeable change in their mental health. There were some minor variations when the researchers looked at player motivations and different types of games, but overall there was no major impact.

[Related: Inside the ambitious video game project trying to preserve Indigenous sports]

Of course, 40,000 players spread over seven games is a tiny fraction of the 3.2 billion people who gamble and the thousands of different games they play. There may well be more nuanced effects on subpopulations that play other games than the ones the researchers tracked. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (13,536 players) and Gran Turismo: sports (19,073 players) were by far the most popular games in their dataset, but none are representative of the most popular type of games. often criticized.

Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, senior researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, says in attached press release: “Our study finds little or no evidence of links between gameplay and well-being.” However, he acknowledges that even the large data set is insignificant considering it’s limited to just seven games. “We know we need a lot more player data from many other platforms to develop the kind of deeper understanding needed to inform policy and shape advice to parents and healthcare professionals.”

Similarly, Dr Matti Vuorre, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, says that “at present there is not enough data and evidence for policy makers and regulators to make laws and rules aimed at restricting gambling among certain groups of a population”. (Something that has happened in china.)

While this study has the largest data set of its kind, it’s not the only one to suggest the game isn’t the villain it’s sometimes portrayed. A secondary analysis of the two online-only shooters (Apex Legends and Riders) in the study found that time spent gambling had no measurable effect on self-reported feelings of anger. In the same way, previous research by the same research group found that gamers who spent more time gaming reported slightly higher levels of well-being. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that playing video games can improve cognition, boost your memoryand increase cognitive flexibility.

That said, it’s also important to note that with a large data set like this, you really get an idea of ​​the average effect of video gaming on the population, not individual gamers. The World Health Organization recognizes video game addiction and organizations like game changers provide incredibly compelling anecdotal evidence that games can take over people’s lives. It’s also easy to argue that the type of people for whom gambling is a problem would be among the least likely to respond to a survey.


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Carolyn M. Daniel