KEY POINTS

  • There is a long-standing debate on whether video games are good or bad for people 
  • Researchers used actual data from game companies to analyze gaming behavior in a recent study
  • They found an association between playing video games and positive well-being
  • Such objective data can shed light on the actual effects of gaming on people

Are video games really bad for people? In a new study, researchers found that the activity may actually be beneficial to well-being.

Whether spending time playing video games is good or bad for people has long been a topic of debate, with some fearing that the activity could result in poor mental health or even an addiction. But in a new study, a team of researchers from Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute (OII) found a positive correlation between playing video games and well-being.

The researchers reached the results of what the OII called a "groundbreaking" study by using, for the first time, objective industry data. 

Animal Crossing And Plants vs. Zombies Players

Compared to previous studies, which relied on players' self-reports on how long they played, the researchers got actual data from game companies. For the study, the researchers from OII collaborated with the companies behind two popular games: "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" and "Plants vs. Zombies: Battle For Neighborville."

The players were also invited by the companies to participate in a survey that the researchers designed to measure the players' well-being, self-reported play and motivations for play.

A total of 3,274 players participated in the survey. Among them, 2,756 were players of "Animal Crossing: New Horizons."

From the survey conducted in August, September and October, researchers gathered interesting findings.

Positive Well-Being

They found that the time people spent playing games was a "small but significant positive factor" to their well-being. Further, they also found that the players' subjective experiences, like the social connection with others and competence, seem to play a bigger factor in their positive well-being compared to just game time.

Simply put, the researchers found a positive association between the time spent playing video games and positive well-being.

"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," Prof. Andrew Przybylski, study lead and director of research at OII, said in a news release. "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."

Objective Data

Because the researchers used data on game time from the companies and not from the players, the results provided a more objective picture of how video games really affect players. In fact, the researchers found that players tended to overestimate their self-reported game time by two hours, showing how important gathering objective data is to fully understand how video games can really affect people, whether positively or negatively.

"Our goal was to investigate the relation between game time, as a measure of actual play behavior, and subjective well-being," the researchers wrote in the study. "We found that relying on objective measures is necessary to assess game time."

Such data is important because they may inform policymakers on the promotion or restriction of games, the researchers said. But so far, research on how video games relate to mental health relies mostly on self-reports, which they said is "known to be inaccurate."

Although the study has several limitations, including studying only two types of games, the study did show the importance of gathering objective data, and how that's possible to obtain through collaborations with the gaming industry.

Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch Pictured: An old vintage Japanese market version of the Nintendo 64 (clear blue edition) video game console known also as 'N64' released in 1996 in Japan next to the latest video game console the Nintendo Switch, which was released in 2017. Photo: Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/Getty Images