The psychological effects of gaming have long been under scrutiny, with wild, baseless claims sharing space with legitimate attempts at study and discourse in the consideration for legislation surrounding regulation of the industry. Most of the attention over the years has been paid to the effect of violence in gaming on child development, but little has been said of other potential impacts gaming may have. If violent games can negatively affect the mental development of children and teenagers — a claim generally accepted as having been built on shaky assumptions, at best — then can games also increase happiness and satisfaction? A recent study by researchers at Oxford University, through collaboration with Electronic Arts and Nintendo, suggests this may be the case.
The study’s authors surveyed players of Plants Vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Players were asked about their well-being, motivations and needs-satisfaction during play. These answers were then merged with telemetry data provided by the big companies. The authors claim that it’s the telemetry data which truly makes the difference in the quality of their conclusions, as game players are notoriously mistaken in the number of hours played — which, believe it or not, actually averages higher than the actual amount of time they spent with the game, meaning players tend to think they played for longer than they actually did.
Overall, the study found a small positive correlation — but not necessarily causation — to fans’ well-being. That said, the authors were reticent to name what the predictors were. When controlling for play time and overall experience, they found neither seemed to be independently responsible for peoples’ improved mood. The real takeaway here seems to be that the authors strongly state that more research is desperately needed to make quality legislation surrounding games, but also that the study seemed to provide further evidence that games can have a negative impact on a player’s well-being.
They end the study stating that they have proven collaboration within the industry is doable, and that these collaborations will ultimately provide the evidence needed to advance our understanding of human play, giving policymakers the insights into our health might be shaped, either way, by gaming.