Study Finds People Who Played Video Games For Longer Had Greater Wellbeing

Posted on November 26, 2020

An increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.

Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.

Two companies, Electronic Arts and Nintendo, provided the team with data from players of Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons respectively. The companies sent out surveys to hundreds of thousands of adult players; these included a wellbeing measure, in which participants rated how often they’d experienced six positive and six negative feelings in the past two weeks. Crucially, the companies also provided data on the number and length of the players’ gaming sessions during those two weeks.

Only a fraction of people responded, ultimately leaving the team with data from 471 Plants vs Zombies players and 2,756 Animal Crossing players. And they found that, overall, the more time people spent playing over that two week period, the greater their wellbeing tended to be. It’s worth noting that although significant, this effect was small: even a large increase in time spent playing was related to a very modest increase in wellbeing. Importantly, the data also showed that people weren’t great at estimating how long they had spent playing over the two week period — their estimates were off by about two hours, highlighting the problems of relying just on self-report data.

The results, then, cast further doubt on the idea that spending more time playing video games is detrimental to our mental health. In fact, the study suggests that there is some kind of link between playing video games for longer and greater wellbeing. This is clearly noteworthy, as so much of the discussion around video games (and screen time generally) just assumes that limiting the time spent playing is a good thing, without acknowledging that it could potentially have detrimental effects.

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Source material from British Psychological Society