Playing video games could boost mental health, says new Oxford University study

The study took findings from people who played Nintendo's 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' and EA's 'Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville'

'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' was one of the most popular video games of 2020. 
Powered by automated translation

In a year when many people found themselves spending more time at home, video games became a popular go-to activity.

However, it appears that hours spent playing games not only helped ease boredom, but may have had a positive impact on mental well-being, too.

A new study by the University of Oxford, UK, found that those who played video games for long periods of time reported feeling happier than those who did not.

Using Nintendo's Animal Crossing: New Horizons and EA's Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, the study focused on 3,274 gamers over the age of 18. It used shared anonymised data, which showed how long each participant had been playing, and then asked them to fill out a survey about their overall well-being.

More importantly, the study was one of the first to be completed using actual play-time data. In past studies, data gathered about how long a participant had been playing games were usually self-reported estimates, meaning that they could be inaccurate.

Key findings

Professor Andrew Przybylski, who led the study, said he was surprised by the results. The study, he said, "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".

He also added that in years of previous research, the findings were generally the other way around, suggesting that the longer people played, the more unhappy they were.

"Our findings show video games aren't necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a person's well-being. In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people's mental health – and regulating video games could withhold those benefits from players," he said.

However, he suggested because both games had social elements and players could interact with characters controlled by other humans, perhaps it was the social element that saw a rise in happiness.

"I don't think people plough a bunch of time into games with a social aspect unless they're happy about it," he said. "It's like a digital water-cooler.”