Animal Crossing New Horizons
Image: Nintendo

A new study conducted by Oxford University claims that video games are good for your mental wellbeing.

The groundbreaking study, which was undertaken in collaboration with academics at the university working with true gameplay data for the very first time, focused on people playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville.

While previous studies focused on often inaccurate play-time data supplied by the players themselves, this new study was one of the first to take advantage of actual play-time data; the team at Oxford University was able to connect the questionnaires completed by those taking part with actual play-time records.

The report reads:

Contrary to many fears that excessive game time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relation between gameplay and well-being.

Overall, our findings suggest that regulating video games, on the basis of time, might not bring the benefits many might expect, though the correlational nature of the data limits that conclusion.

Andrew Przybylski, the lead researcher on the project, states that prior to the study taking place, he was shocked at how little data gaming firms had on the people who play their products. He was also concerned about the fact that hard data didn't seem to factor into previous studies done on the effects of gaming on people.

Przybylski said:

This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire. This lets us explain and understand games as a leisure activity. It was a quest to figure out is data collected by gaming companies vaguely useful for academic and health policy research?

He adds that the study "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." However, he's also keen to stress that this study doesn't paper over the various negative aspects of gaming, but by conducting more research, they can better understand what causes them:

I’m very confident that if the research goes on, we will learn about the things that we think of as toxic in games, and we will have evidence for those things as well.

It's worth noting that the study only covers the two mentioned games, which are intended for all ages; Animal Crossing: New Horizon, it should also be pointed out, is a very chilled-out experience, so it's hardly surprising that playing it results in people feeling happier and more contented. It is noted that games which are “intrinsically” enjoyable could offer a different reaction to those which are focused on more “extrinsic” behaviours, such as feeling as though you're being bullied into taking part by other players or overbearing game mechanics.

Ultimately, Przybylski hopes that this study – coming from such a prestigious academic institution – will force other people researching the effects of video games to press for more accurate evidence and data, especially as some organizations are issuing statements which paint video gaming in a negative light:

You have really respected, important bodies, like the World Health Organization and the NHS, allocating attention and resources to something that there’s literally no good data on. And it’s shocking to me, the reputational risk that everyone’s taking, given the stakes. For them to turn around and be like, ‘hey, this thing that 95% of teenagers do? Yeah, that’s addictive, no, we don’t have any data,’ that makes no sense.