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Playing video games is ‘good for mental wellbeing’, says new study by Oxford University

Not just one of the fastest growing means of entertainment, video gaming could be beneficial for your mental health, too. This is the conclusion of a new study from Oxford University in which academics worked with gameplay data for the first time.

The study focused on two games: Nintendo’s Animal Crossing and EA’s Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. The study found that those who played more games generally reported better wellbeing.

The study was one of the first to be done using actual playtime data: the team at Oxford were able to link up psychological questionnaires with the records of time spent playing games. Previous studies focused on self-reported time playing, which is often inaccurate.

“This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire,” said Andrew Przybylski, the lead researcher on the project.

At the start of the project, Przybylski was surprised at how little data gaming companies had about their players, and how little hard data had been used in previous studies analysing the harms and benefits of gaming.

The study, says Przybylski, “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.”

Of course, both Animal Crossing and Plants Vs Zombies are online multiplayer titles. Given the current pandemic and social distancing measures, there seems to be an obvious argument for the social nature of these games helping players with their mental health during this challenging time.

Przybylski also makes it clear that this study does not mean there aren’t negative aspects to games too. “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.”

On that note, the study contrasts “intrinsic” enjoyment (playing a game because you enjoy it) with “extrinsic”, such as playing a game because you feel bullied into it, either by players or the game’s mechanics.

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