from Emma L. Barratt
Video games are perhaps one of the most politicized forms of entertainment media. In the decades since its inception, governments, politicians, health officials, and beyond have raised concerns that the time some gamers spend in these virtual worlds could be detrimental to their mental health.
Despite all of these concerns, there is a lack of quality research on the effects of video games on player wellbeing. To remedy this, Matti Vuorre and colleagues from Oxford University carried out an ambitious longitudinal study in collaboration with several major game publishers such as Nintendo and Square Enix. They reveal these fears in their latest preprint PsyArXiv, are unfounded.
To investigate whether extended playtime would affect player wellbeing, the team recruited a massive 38,935 players from Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Apex Legends, Eve Online, Forza, Gran Turismo, Outriders, and The crew 2. Recruiting emails for this study were specifically addressed to English-speaking players from several countries.
Over a period of six weeks, the players were asked to answer three “waves” of a survey that was sent out every two weeks and contained measurements of well-being and motivation. The first measurement of well-being, a 13-point scale of positive and negative experiences (SPANE), asked participants how they had felt over the past two weeks and how often they had experienced six positive and six negative feelings. The Cantril self-anchoring scale was also used to assess well-being, in which participants rate their satisfaction with life between 0 and 10.
Players were also asked to reflect on their experience of the game over the past two weeks by completing the Player Experience and Needs Satisfaction Scale (PENS), the questions about sense of autonomy, competence and connectedness (z), and motivation. Finally, participants were asked to provide an estimate of the time they had spent in the past two weeks playing the video game they were recruited to (game publishers also provided the research team with the actual total playing times of each participant for those two weeks to disposal). .
The analyzes examined the relationship between hours played in one wave and wellbeing scores in the following wave. Reviewing data such as this one found that the time spent playing these games had little to no causal impact on wellbeing or life satisfaction. According to the authors, the effect was so small that if the players went from their minimum playing time to their maximum playing time, their wellbeing values would only shift by about 0.013 points on the SPANE scale. The effects on life satisfaction scores would be similarly small and would only shift by 0.02 points. Such numbers are not indicative of a significant wellbeing effect.
By switching these two factors to examine the effects of emotions and life satisfaction on playtime, the team found that increasing wellbeing by one point on the SPANE scale resulted in an increase in playtime of 0.01 hours per week would lead. Likewise, life satisfaction had essentially no influence on playing time, which suggests that there is no causal relationship between well-being and playing time.
In contrast, the motivation to play was causally linked to well-being. Perhaps unsurprisingly, gamers who wanted to engage in video games increased their wellbeing while feeling compelled to gamble decreased those feelings.
The range of game genres used in this study is quite wide – Animal Crossing: New Horizonsis, for example, a pastoral experience that clearly differs from the high level of commitment, often high pressure experience Eva Online. Even so, there are many other genres that should be explored as well. The amount of time spent playing mobile games, as well as games with microtransactions or addictive elements, can affect the wellbeing of gamers in different ways.
According to the authors, the samples in this study could also have somewhat limited the informative value of this result. Because participants were self-selected, individuals with certain traits or dispositions that made them unaffected by long gaming sessions may have been more likely to have provided data. The age of the participants – an average of 34 years – can also limit the generalizability of these results. It is possible that these players developed gaming habits as adults that did not specifically affect their wellbeing, which younger players may not have. And of course these players were all English speakers, so it remains unclear whether there might be cultural differences in the strength of the relationship between gaming and wellbeing.
Despite these limitations, the results of this study are much-needed preliminary evidence that the time spent playing video games is not a well-being threat. In the future, similarly robust research to confirm these findings in other age groups, as well as investigating the effects of certain game functions, will help advance this area of research.
– Time spent playing video games is unlikely to affect your wellbeing [this paper is a preprint meaning that it has not yet been subjected to peer review and the final published version may differ from the version this report was based on]
Emma L. Barratt (@E_Barratt) works at BPS Biomedarticles