Are video games actually good for our mental health?

A new study by Oxford University has found a link between gaming and players reporting positive mental wellbeing.

by Tom George
18 November 2020, 12:19pm

Photo Credit: Nintendo

For many, video games have provided an outlet and escape in the midst of the chaos and confusion that is 2020. Whether it’s the wholesome, comforting-simplicity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons or the post-apocalyptic action of The Last Of Us Part II. As a new Xbox was released earlier this month and Playstation release their 5th iteration as we speak, a new study by Oxford University has suggested that parental fears of gaming rotting our brains were perhaps misplaced. Instead, it seems like video games might actually be linked to an increased mental wellbeing.  

Over 3,200 players of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons and EA’s Plants Vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, volunteered to be surveyed on their general happiness and wellbeing with this then compared to their game-play. What the researchers found was a positive correlation between the amount of time spent gaming and players experiencing better mental health

“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,” the study’s lead author, Professor Professor Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University says. “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.”

What makes this landmark study especially unique is that it is the first time researchers have worked in-tandem with game developers; Nintendo and EA providing anonymous data on players’ usage while the Oxford Internet Institute surveyed the player’s mental wellbeing separately. It marks a decisive shift from past research which has relied on Reddit and addiction forums to find participants -- which naturally skews data negatively -- whilst historically, self-reporting from participants on their time spent gaming has made data less reliable. 

While the researchers are aware of the fact that their study only samples players of two video games in a wide and growing industry, and that, as the study puts it, "experiences of competence and social connection with others" within the games may have contributed to the results, they hope that their work will lead to better understanding of the relationship between mental health and gaming. 

mental health
Video Games
Animal Crossing