Oxford University Study Shows Small Correlation Between Playing Video Games And 'Well Being'

from the well-i'll-be dept

For the first few decades after video games became a serious medium of entertainment among the public, they were also blamed for all manner of ills. Violence in children was chief among the concerns, of course, but so too were claims that video games made kids anti-social, apathetic, and fat slobs stuck in their parents’ basements. It was only part of the way into the 2010s when the studies on the topic of video games started making a notable turn away from these dire warnings. Oxford University’s Andrew Przybylski had his hands on many of these new studies, such as the one indicating games only made people violent if they were too shitty or difficult, or his study decoupling social media from any causation of unhappiness in children.

Well, Przybylski is at it again with an interesting study that seems to indicate some correlation, though not causation, between time spent playing video games and “well being.”

The research began in 2019 with the Oxford team discussing collaborative opportunities with several major gaming companies. One of the general goals was to conduct a correlational study using objective play-time data as opposed to the traditional self-reported data used in prior research.

Using anonymized telemetry data supplied by Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America the research ultimately looked at two games: Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Players were invited to opt-in to the research, and alongside objective telemetry data they completed surveys asking about emotional well-being and motivations for gaming.

While the researchers were surprised at the findings, which seemed to indicate that there was a small correlation between time spent gaming and self-reporting of positive well-being, Przybylski rightfully cautioned consumers of the report to not come to the wrong conclusion about any of this. The idea isn’t that you should play more games for longer if you want to be happier. Instead, the focus should be why players play certain games. If that’s the focus, the idea that paring back the time playing games to address unhappiness might be exactly the wrong approach for some.

All this goes to suggest regulating video game play solely on duration of play time may not be an effective way to moderate the medium’s possible negative effects. For some people, in some contexts, longer video game play time may lead to more positive well-being outcomes.

“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’ well-being,” Przybylski adds. “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.”

The point here is that when it comes to mental health and how video games interact with mental health, the landscape is so wildly complicated and full of nuance that blanket approaches become downright silly. And, instead of focusing on the video game as though it were the problem, the focus should be put on the person, what they play and why the play it, and what the outcome of such game playing is for that individual.

When put that way, honestly, it seems rather obvious.

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Comments on “Oxford University Study Shows Small Correlation Between Playing Video Games And 'Well Being'”

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21 Comments
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

I can bolster the “focus on why you play games” argument in one word: Arcades.

…okay, I realize that might not mean much, so I’ll use more words. Back when arcades were at the height of their popularity, they were hotspots for community play. Competitive and co-op gaming largely began in the depths of local arcades. The fighting game community, for example, was born out of the success of games like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and their various sequels, imitators, and successors. A small group of people playing together is bound to foster a few friendships if they keep at it long enough.

Social gaming has largely relegated itself to the Internet these days — for better or for worse — but it remains a part of gaming even after the fall of the arcade. Community is why people keep playing games like Street Fighter V, EVE Online, Among Us, and so on. On the whole, that’s a good thing.

If only we could keep those communities from becoming toxic shitpits…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If only we could keep those communities from becoming toxic shitpits…

Definitely an older gamer. Thinks that online multiplayer games are anything but toxic shitpits.

Heads up: That’s their culture. I can’t say I agree with it. There’s only so much of "13 y/o screaming he banged my mother last night over chat while teabaging everyone constantly" I can take. Nevertheless, It’s what they consider "acceptable" behavior. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of anonymity that’s unlikely to change. No sane person wants to open a place for these people to hang out and discard their anonymity shield of their own volition. So the behavior never improves because they have no incentive to do so.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Thinks that online multiplayer games are anything but toxic shitpits.

I didn’t say that and I’ll thank you not to shove words in my mouth that didn’t first come from it.

I said “if only we could keep those communities from becoming toxic shitpits”. The implicit question there infers that I know online gaming communities are (by and large) toxic shitpits and I lament the fact that we can’t stop those commuinities from growing that toxic.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"I lament the fact that we can’t stop those commuinities from growing that toxic."

The fundamental problem is that while gaming attracts a huge range of people from a wide range of communities, one of its central demographics has always been teenage boys. If you can find a way to stop them from acting like teenage boys, your findings will be of far greater use than just the gaming community.

BG (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"That’s their culture" No it’s not. It’s immature people behaving badly out of hearing or line-of-site of a responsible adult.

No way would 13 year old Timmy scream "I f##ked your mom in the ass last night" while playing Fortnite/Gears/CS GO on the PC/PS/XBox in the living room while his own dear mother/father was sitting 6 feet away watching [insert relevant soap opera or home improvement show]. At least not if Timmy’s parental figures had a scrap of manners and cared a damn about little Timmy.

Jono793 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If only we could keep those communities from becoming toxic shitpits…

Surely the answers to that are the same as moderating any other online service?

Encourage publishers and developers to innovate. Share best practices accross the industry. And push more control out to your end-users.

From an individual gamer standpoint, I’d add creating and curating smaller more managable (and directly moderatable) communities. Services like Discord are great for this.

Not a perfect solution. But as we’re constantly reminded on here, content moderation is impossible to do perfectly.

crade (profile) says:

"such as the one indicating games only made people violent if they were too shitty or difficult"

If kids are reacting violently to being frustrated, they should probably be playing more frustratingly difficult games to teach them patience and learn to solve frustratingly difficult problems without throwing cartridges against the wall 🙂

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Love that game, but I always found that Dam level wasn’t nearly as bad as people say. It’s also got those horrible maze type levels where you need to do things in the right order or it continues forever and the technodrome is a gauntlet of overpowered enemies I could only ever beat if I manage to make it there with a full stock of items.

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