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Video Gaming Can Benefit Mental Wellbeing, Oxford Researchers Find

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Nov 17, 2020

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An Oxford study of two popular games — Nintendo’s Animal Crossing and EA’s Plants vs Zombies — found people who played them, even for extended periods of time, reported greater well-being and happiness. The latest finding is at odds with decades of research that blamed video games for everything from mental health issues to behavioral changes to addiction problems.

Past research into video gaming, however, has been debunked in the scientific community and has “been heavily criticized for collating individual studies with poor methodology and inconsistent findings, as well as for pandering to popular moral panic,” The Swaddle has previously reported.

For the new study, Oxford University researchers studied 3,274 gamers, and in a first, obtained anonymized data from game developers themselves to look at how long any given player played the two games. This makes the current study one of the most accurate to date, as all past video gaming research has depended upon self-reported estimates of time spent gaming, which ran the risk of being inaccurate. The current study found players who enjoyed playing a game reported greater general well-being than those who didn’t enjoy it. This paved way for the study to document players’ experiences while playing a game, which researchers found to be a more significant factor in determining gamers’ wellbeing than the duration for which they played it.


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“This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire,” Andrew Przybylski, the lead researcher on the project, told The Guardian. “This lets us explain and understand games as a leisure activity.” The study, he added, “shows that 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.”

The researchers admitted these findings could change depending on the nature of the game and the psychological framework of the person playing it, but the latest findings signal a more positive outlook toward a common pastime. Still, while conclusions around gaming’s negative effects have been debunked, it’s only because the research behind it was of poor quality, not because a negative effect is impossible. “We need to study more games, and more players, over more time,” Przybylski said. “My hope is that this fosters curiosity and collaboration and open data.”

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.

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