A pioneering study by Oxford University used novel industry data from two popular video games to investigate the relationship between happiness and time spent playing video games. The surprising results show that the correlation between longer play time and positive well-being is not significant. The study began in 2019 and the Oxford team discussed collaboration opportunities with several major game companies. One of the overall goals is to use objective game time data for correlation studies, rather than the traditional self-reported data used in previous studies.
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Using anonymous telemetry data provided by EA and Nintendo, two games were examined. Zombies and animal crossing. Players were invited to participate in the study. In addition to objective telemetry data, they also completed surveys on emotional health and game motivation.
More than 3000 players eventually contributed to the study, which surprised the Oxford team. A small but significant correlation was found between play time and positive well-being. Andrew przybylski, one of the project’s researchers, stressed that these findings do not suggest a causal relationship between time spent playing video games and subjective well-being. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the more video games you play, the happier you are. But the correlation detected here is important.
The data collected by the research shows that when thinking about how video games affect a person’s happiness, it may not be so important to consider how long a person plays games, but it is more meaningful to ask why a person plays games. Demand satisfaction and motivation in the game process are independently related to subjective well-being.
“Our results show that video games are not necessarily harmful to your health, and there are other psychological factors that have a significant impact on a person’s well-being,” przybylski added. “In fact, gaming can be an activity that has a positive relationship with people’s mental health – and regulation of video games may detain those benefits that are given to players. “
Przybylski’s recent work has strongly criticized previous studies on the subjective impact of modern technologies such as smartphones and video games. For example, a study in 2019 found that adolescents’ time spent on digital devices was not associated with negative mental health outcomes. Instead, the study suggests that more nuances are needed to analyze the different uses of digital screens, rather than broad, one size fits all advice, such as advocating a single screen time per day.
An important aspect of this new research is the involvement of the video game industry. Historically, the industry has been reluctant to work with academia, resulting in research relying on self-reported data. Przybylski said that self-reported game time data is notoriously unreliable, especially when it comes to digital behavior. He pointed out that the current research was designed, analyzed and released independently of the game company, and praised EA and Nintendo for their bravery in providing data without guessing what the research results might be.
“Working with EA and Nintendo, we have been able to combine academic and industry expertise,” he said. “By capturing data on people’s play time, we were able for the first time to investigate the relationship between actual play behavior and subjective well-being, enabling us to provide a template for producing high-quality evidence to support health policy makers. “