Despite widespread concerns about the potential negative impacts of video games on gamers, a new study from the University of Oxford has found “little to no evidence for a casual connection” between time spent playing video games and well-being.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Royal Society Open Science on July 27 and traced the gameplay behaviours of almost 40,000 individual players.
It is the first study of its kind to use real data on player behaviour rather than rely on self-reported activity. It used data spanning a six-week period, which was provided by seven different major game companies.
“Our work reliably measures how long people are playing these games across time, data which simply wasn’t accessible in the past,” said Andrew K. Przybylski, one of the paper’s authors, in a release.
Participants of the study were surveyed through two rounds of emails through which they were able to offer consent and answer questions that measured their levels of satisfaction and emotions.
It was found that gamers’ reasons for playing is more significant than how long they played. According to the study, players who felt like they had to or felt a “sense of compulsion” to play tended to have less pleasure, irrespective of how much time they logged.
Conversely, participants who had a healthier motivation, such as playing for fun or to relax, were connected with greater well-being.
It was also concluded that there may be a connection between playing games and well-being at extreme levels, such as if a gamer played an extra 10 hours a day or beyond what is average for them. The study didn’t gather data for gaming sessions that exceeded 10 hours.
The study’s researchers also say that previous investigations into video games’ relationship with well-being haven’t been enough to inform health policy decisions on a global scale, and that “it is, therefore, critical that researchers provide robust, credible and relevant evidence to inform policymakers.”
In 2021, China imposed a new set of rules that forbade anyone under 18 to play video games for more than an hour a day, a move that was considered a blow to the gaming industry.
“One thing is certain – right now there is not enough data and evidence for policymakers and regulators to be developing laws and rules to restrict gameplay among certain groups in a population,” Matti Vuorre, co-author of the study said in the release.
According to the study, only seven out of 30,000 companies consented to participate, and the games examined (Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Apex Legends, Eve Online, Forza Horizon 4, Gran Turismo Sport, Outriders, and The Crew 2) comprised a sizable but an incomplete representation of the medium.
“This work represents substantial progress for the field but we need to cast a much wider net,” Przybylski said.
“If we want to truly understand how games influence human health we have to collect data from the thousands of games played every day. Conclusive answers …. will require all of the major console, computer, and mobile platforms to empower their users to effortlessly and ethically donate their play data for independent analysis.”