New research from Oxford University has delivered a new take on video games: time spent playing games could positively impact mental health.  Professor Andrew Pryzybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute and lead author of the study said: “If you play Animal Crossing for four hours a day, every single day, you’re likely to say you feel significantly happier than someone who doesn’t.” 

The conclusion of the study is not that all video games are “good for you” or that “all players benefit’” Professor Pryzbylski argues that his research should be a first step in carrying out a proper scientific study of the impact of gaming on players and their effects over time; he is keen to see more studies follow. 

The new study uses anonymised data from the gaming industry data on the actual play time for popular video games rather than self-reported “guesstimate” that have been used in previous studies. These logs were then linked to a survey in which the players answered questions about their well-being. A total of 3,274 gamers took part.

Professor Pryzbylski said this investigation marks a new direction: “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.”

The Oxford Internet Institute research concentrated on the popular video games Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Both are online ‘social’ games, where players engage with others at remote locations, and neither fall into the ‘violent’ category. 

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According to the report, “Policymakers urgently require reliable, robust, and credible evidence that illuminates the influences video game may have on global mental health. However, the most important source of data, the objective behaviours of players, are not used in scientific research.”

“It’s fine to have an opinion about video games,” says Professor Pryzybylski. “But, without research, you cannot know if this is a real thing of just your own ‘facts’. You can have your own opinion but you cannot have your own facts.”