A new University of Oxford study published this week suggests that there’s a “positive relation between game play and well-being.”
The paper itself hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, but it’s been covered widely this week as its findings and methods are unique. The authors used Plants vs. Zombies and Animal Crossing New Horizons, working with EA and Nintendo to distribute surveys to players and then combining them with those players’ playtime data from the game companies, resulting in complete data from over 3000 gamers. The surveys measured “players’ well-being, self-reported play, and motivations for play” as well as how much they actually played – and in some cases how they performed while playing, as measured by the games.
“Contrary to many fears that excessive game time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relation between game play and well-being. Need satisfaction and motivations during play did not interact with game time but were instead independently related to well-being. Our results advance the field in two important ways. First, we show that collaborations with industry partners can be done to high academic standards in an ethical and transparent fashion. Second, we deliver much-needed evidence to policymakers on the link between play and mental health.”
Interestingly, the authors note something MMO players probably already suspected: The factors positively associated with well-being – conditional with time – were “autonomy and relatedness,” not extrinsic motivations (like feeling pressure to play).
The authors do note potential flaws in the study; it’s possible that happier, wealthier, healthier people are more likely to have the time and ability to play in the first place, and the researchers explicitly point out that they can’t prove that sinking more time into games causes you to be happier. “We are mindful to emphasise that we cannot claim that game time causally affects well-being,” the paper notes. “The goal of this study was to explore whether and how objective game behaviour relates to mental health. We were successful in capturing a snapshot of that relation and gain initial insight into the relations between video games and mental health.” Like most such papers, this one urges continuing research.
Oh, and here’s a fun side note to cap this off: “On average, players overestimated their play time by two hours” – which turned out to be important here as the well-being effect was actually more strongly associated with the real play time, not the players’ speculated play time. Humans are generally bad at time.