animal crossing

Playing games can be good for your mental health, says Oxford study

A study from Oxford University has suggested that playing video games can be beneficial for your mental health, in a collaboration in which academics worked with actual gameplay data for the first time (via The Guardian).

The study focused on two games: Nintendo’s Animal Crossing (New Horizons, most likely) 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.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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