TThe study, the biggest of its kind to date, found that the impact of playing the game on wellbeing was close to zero
“With 40,000 observations across six weeks, we really gave increases and decreases in video game play a fair chance to predict emotional states in life satisfaction, and we didn’t find evidence for that – we found evidence that that’s not true in a practically significant way." Professor Andrew Przybylski, senior research fellow, Oxford Internet Institute
Time spent playing video games is not damaging to players’ mental health, a new study from the University of Oxford has found.
The study of nearly 40,000 gamers, which was conducted over six weeks by a team from Oxford’s Internet Institute, (OII) found there was no “causal link” between gaming and poor mental health, regardless of the type of game being played. It also found that “the impact of time spent playing video games on well-being is probably too small to be subjectively noticeable and not credibly different from zero.”
The survey, the most comprehensive to date, looked at multiple platforms and seven different games, including basic games, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, racing simulators such as Gran Turismo Sport and more competitive games, such as Apex Legends and Eve Online.
Professor Andrew Przybylski, senior research fellow at OII, said there was no difference in impact on mental health whether the game involved moving to a new town with talking animals, as in Animal Crossing, or taking part in a battle royal-style game, such as Apex Legends.
“With 40,000 observations across six weeks, we really gave increases and decreases in video game play a fair chance to predict emotional states in life satisfaction, and we didn’t find evidence for that – we found evidence that that’s not true in a practically significant way,” he said.
Przybylski said, however, that it was important to consider the “mindset that people have as they approach games”, with a difference emerging in the experience of gamers who play “because they want to” and those who play “because they feel they have to.”
Players were asked to report their experiences on grounds such as “autonomy”, “competence” and “intrinsic motivation”, to unpick whether they were playing for healthy reasons, such as having fun or socialising with friends, or more concerning ones, such as a compulsion to satisfy goals set by the game.
Previous studies have often involved players keeping diaries of their reactions to gaming. In this study, however, the gamers gave permission for their real-time data to be used for the research, giving the researchers a tantalising insight into the impact of gaming.
Przybylski noted that, although the study looked at a large dataset, it only represented a small proportion of the available data: “About one billion people are playing video games worldwide. There are 3,000 games on the Nintendo platform alone. People play multiple games – and we were able to access information about 39,000 people playing just seven popular games.”
It’s encouraging to see a large-scale study show that playing video games has no adverse effects on mental health, except in cases where people are experiencing a compulsion to play. Indeed, video games and immersive virtual reality experiences are increasingly used to help people with mental health problems, and the experience they offer of interacting socially with others and of reliving particular scenarios have been shown to be beneficial in alleviation symptoms such as those caused by trauma. We hope other researchers will look now in more detail at the benefits that video gaming can offer in improving mental wellbeing.