A new study from Oxford University which accessed actual gameplay data has suggested that those who play more games tend to report greater wellbeing.
In a departure from the normal methodology for such psychological studies, the Oxford team was able to access true records of game time to associate with their psychological questionnaires. This meant they could avoid the more traditional measurement of self-reported time playing, which the study indeed suggests isn’t a reliable reflection of reality.
Perhaps even more interesting than the study itself is lead researcher Andrew Przybylski’s thoughts on the existing body of research on games he made known to The Guardian – especially when it comes to health policy and their potential adverse effects (or benefits?). Existing psychology research he suggests is “a dumpster fire.”
“You have really respected, important bodies, like the World Health Organization and the NHS, allocating attention and resources to something that there’s literally no good data on. And it’s shocking to me, the reputational risk that everyone’s taking, given the stakes. For them to turn around and be like, ‘hey, this thing that 95% of teenagers do? Yeah, that’s addictive, no, we don’t have any data,’ that makes no sense,” Przybylski said.
The study was based on the very family-friendly Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, so it’s possible other games may not be so positive for your wellbeing. “I’m very confident that if the research goes on, we will learn about the things that we think of as toxic in games,” Przybylski said, “and we will have evidence for those things as well.”
This study was only a first step towards a better understanding of our favourite recreational activity, then. “If you play four hours a day of Animal Crossing, you’re a much happier human being, but that’s only interesting because all of the other research before this is done so badly,” said Przybylski.
The paper discusses both “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” motivations and how that too might affect the mental impact of games. That’s interesting to me, since I wrote a feature this year on the research behind how social games are. “Intrinsic motivation” refers to performing an activity because it is inherently fun or interesting. “Extrinsic motivation,” refers to taking part in an activity to attain outcomes that are both outside the self and separable from the activity. The research suggests you can only really socially benefit from games if you are extrinsically motivated to benefit. You can’t accidentally be social.
Contrariwise, perhaps if people are extrinsically motivated by a game’s manipulative mechanics rather than being intrinsically engaged in the gameplay, that might not be great for their mental health?
All food for thought. If there’s one thing I love, it’s authoritative voices like academics affirming my uninformed opinions. As with most things, games can be good for you and games can be bad for you. It’s certainly good to know that there appears to be enough good that the equivalent of cigarette warning labels don’t need to be slapped on Tom Nook’s head anytime soon, though.
We have a favour to ask
Thumbsticks has a couple of main aims. We want to write interesting articles and cover games that most outlets won't, and we want to give opportunities to new writers and new voices. And right now, with the current state of online publishing? It's tough! We hate to ask, but if you want us to continue writing what others won't, or to keep covering weird indie games, or to be able to give opportunities to new writers – and only if you can afford it – then please consider supporting us on Patreon.
Recommended for you
Latest from Thumbsticks
Ori: The Collection bundles both games on one Nintendo Switch cartridge
Iam8bit, the specialist publisher of collector's editions, is bringing Ori: The Collection to Nintendo Switch later this year.
PlayStation Plus gets three games in August 2021
Sony reveals the free video games available to PlayStation Plus subscribers in August 2021.
The Xbox Games with Gold for August 2021 are pretty good
The Xbox Games with Gold lineup for August 2021 includes an underrated sequel and a flawed but fun homage to...
Krispy Kreme developing Nexus Level Doughnut in partnership with Xbox
This Krispy Kreme / Xbox mashup doughnut looks delicious, sure, but why is it called the "Nexus Level" doughnut?
Is Valve’s Steam Deck the perfect gateway to PC gaming?
With a simple and approachable device like the Steam Deck, will PC gaming finally get its hooks into console gamers?
The next Monster Hunter Rise event adds Okami’s Amaterasu
Capcom has announced that the next collaboration event for Monster Hunter Rise will feature Amaterasu from Okami.
This tech demo from Gears of War developer The Coalition is unreal
Unreal Engine 5 running on the Xbox Series X, that is.
Xbox Ultimate Game Sale and Deals with Gold Highlights
This week's Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S digital sales features a new Deals with Gold lineup and the Ultimate...