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More evidence that video gaming can benefit mental health

Children sitting on a sofa playing video games

By Marc McLaren

Time spent playing video games could aid mental wellbeing, according to a groundbreaking new study.

The research by the Oxford Internet Institute surveyed the players of two popular games: Animal Crossing and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville.

But for the first time in such a study, the researchers then linked the responses to actual play-time data to give an accurate picture of how long people were gaming and what effect it had on them. Other studies have typically used self-reported play-time – which, the study says, is often inaccurate.

“Previous research has relied mainly on self-report surveys to study the relationship between play and wellbeing,” explained Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and lead-author of the study.

“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 found that increased game time was related to overall wellbeing. What’s more, those who played for the longest experienced higher wellbeing during the two-week study period.

“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’ wellbeing,” added Professor Przybylski.

“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.”

Key findings include:

  • Actual amount of time spent playing was a small but significant positive factor in people’s wellbeing
  • A player’s subjective experiences during play might be a bigger factor for wellbeing than mere play-time
  • Players getting genuine enjoyment from the games experience more positive wellbeing
  • Findings align with past research suggesting people whose psychological needs weren’t being met in the ‘real world’ might report negative wellbeing from play

However, the report does include a couple of caveats to the results.

Firstly, people who feel good in general might be more inclined to settle down for a gaming session in the first place, meaning that the correlation between game time and wellbeing might be overstated. And secondly, there might be other factors that affect both game playtime and wellbeing – for example, that people with high incomes are more likely to be able to afford a console.

That said, other studies have recorded a similar relationship. In August, research from the National Literacy Trust found that playing video games had a positive effect on children throughout lockdown, with participants revealing improvements in their literacy skills and creative thinking.

The findings also back up what we already know about screen time in general – that what you do is more important than how long you do it for.

Indeed, earlier research by Professor Przybylski and the Oxford Internet Institute found that children who spend time engaged in “television-based or digital device activities” are likely to demonstrate higher levels of social and emotional wellbeing than others.

You can read more about screen time here.

Image: Monkey Business/stock.adobe.com


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