Research challenges assumption that video games are bad for your mental health

Are video games bad for your mental health?

The answer to that question often changes depending on who you talk to, but in recent years, gaming has been seen as bad. Just last year, the World Health Organisation officially classified video game addiction as a mental disorder.

But a new bit of research challenges that assertion by suggesting that video games might actually improve your mental health.

The research comes out of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University and you can read the research in full here. The research team consisted of Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre and Andrew Przybylski.

What makes this research interesting is how the team approached it.

The idea here was to explore the mental health impact video games have on a gamer. To do this, the researchers looked at in-game telemetry alongside survey responses from folks playing Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

For this research EA helped the team by hosting the survey and sending mails out to players asking them to participate. Players and surveys were matched using a hashed player ID and no personal information was included.

So then, what did the researchers observe?

The study suggests that simply playing a game for twenty hours a day won’t make you sad on its own, there are other factors to consider. But, playing a game you enjoy, with people you like might have a positive effect.

“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. 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,” Przybylski explained in a press release.

What is special about this research is that the team worked with EA and Nintendo to get the data they needed to come to this conclusion.

“Previous research has relied mainly on self-report surveys to study the relationship between play and wellbeing. Without objective data from games companies, those proposing advice to parents or policymakers have done so without the benefit of a robust evidence base,” Przybylski said.

“Working with Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America we’ve been able to combine academic and industry expertise. Through access to data on peoples’ playing time, for the first time we’ve been able to investigate the relation between actual game play behaviour and subjective well-being, enabling us to deliver a template for crafting high-quality evidence to support health policymakers,” the researcher added.

And that’s really the point here – we can’t make policy decisions because Jeff feels like he’s more depressed since he started playing a game.

Perhaps Jeff has other issues in his life he thinks he can ignore with games or the game he’s playing has a toxic community. There are so many more factors to consider than just “the game makes me feel bad”.

Once again, we highly recommend reading the research paper, which is available for free here.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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