Study: Time spent playing video games unlikely to impact mental health

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Billions of people play video games every day. Lawmakers, parents and other experts often point out that the addictive quality of games is detrimental to the mental health of gamers, especially when it comes to children. In China, social media, streaming and video games have strict limits for children under 18 due to their potential harmful effects.

However, a survey of nearly 40,000 gamers found that video gaming does not appear to be detrimental to gamers’ mental health.

A study from the University of Oxford published in the journal Royal Society Open Science in the July 22 issue (volume 9, issue 7) shows that video games have little impact on gamers’ mental health – positive or negative.

This study was designed to take the first steps towards identifying the real causal impacts of gambling on well-being over time.

The study authors collaborated with seven game publishers who recruited active gamers to participate in a three-wave panel study.

The final sample was:

  • 38,935 active players
  • 77 percent identified as male
  • 21 percent identified as female
  • 1.8% as third gender or non-binary gender
  • The median age of participants was 34 years old

The publishers participated with the following games: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo of America), Apex Legends (Electronic Arts), Online Standby (CCP Games), Forza Horizon 4 (Microsoft), Gran Turismo Sports (Sony Interactive Entertainment), Riders (Square Enix) and The crew 2 (Ubisoft).

Because game publishers provided data, players did not need to self-report time spent on games.

“This exciting study brings together massive amounts of real game data collected by game companies and donated by gamers,” said Andrew Przybylski, senior researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Our work reliably measures how long people play these games over time, data that was simply not accessible in the past.”

Researchers:

  • Questioning the emotional well-being of participants with the scale of positive and negative experiences
  • Participants reflected on how they had felt over the past two weeks and reported how often they had experienced six positive and negative feelings.
  • Measurement of participants’ general life satisfaction with the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale.

The study found that the average effects of time spent playing video games on gamer well-being are likely very small.

“Our study finds little to no evidence for links between gameplay and well-being, but we know we need a lot more player data from many other platforms to develop the kind of deeper understanding needed to inform policy and shape advice to parents and healthcare professionals,” said Przybylski.

The study relied on gamers to donate their game data for independent analysis.

“One thing is certain – at present there is not enough data and evidence for policy makers and regulators to develop laws and rules aimed at restricting gambling among certain groups of a population. “said Matti Vuorre, researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author. of the study. “I urge all online platforms, not just gaming companies, to make it easy for users to donate their data to independent scholars.”

According to another co-author, Niklas Johannes, transparency is important when studying video games.

“All data was anonymized, protecting the privacy of participants, and therefore could be made public,” Johannes said. “The data is a valuable resource and allows other researchers to test their own research questions. For example, we used this data to show that playing two online shooters had no effect on aggression, and we encourage other researchers to make the most of this data.

Przybylski says this study marks substantial progress in understanding players and mental health – but he said, “we need to cast a much wider net”.

“If we really want to understand how games influence human health, we need to collect data from the thousands of games played every day,” he said. “Conclusive answers to questions about the influence of games on our society will require that all major console, computer and mobile platforms enable their users to effortlessly and ethically donate their game data for a independent analysis.”

Authors of the article include Kristoffer Magnusson, Vuorre, Johannes and Przybylski.

The work is part of the Huo Family Foundation-funded Adolescent Well-Being in the Digital Age program and has been peer-reviewed by the journal. Royal Society for Open Science.

The Oxford Internet Institute is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department at the University of Oxford dedicated to the social sciences of the Internet.

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