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Major new study finds little evidence for causal connection between well-being and video game playing

Published on
27 Jul 2022
Written by
Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre, Kristoffer Magnusson and Andrew Przybylski
New Oxford study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science finds time spent playing video games is unlikely to impact well-being.
Image of a group of gamers

A University of Oxford study of 39,000 gamers published in the journal Royal Society Open Science has found time spent playing video games is unlikely to impact well-being.

The research team worked with seven leading video game companies and asked players aged 18+ to donate their play data for independent analysis.

The study found “little to no evidence for a causal connection between gameplay and well-being” but that “motivations play a role in players’ well-being”. The study’s authors also make clear that further industry data are required across a greater range of games and players to develop a deeper understanding of the roles of video games in players’ well-being.

The data came from players of seven well-known games which included Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Apex Legends, Eve Online, Forza Horizon 4, Gran Turismo Sport, and The Crew 2, and covered a six-week period of play. It is the largest study of this kind so far to use real data on player behaviour rather than self-reported play and builds on research undertaken previously by the research group which found that players who play more also report slightly greater levels of well-being.

Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, said:   “This exciting study brings together significant amounts of real playing data collected by games companies and donated by players. Our work reliably measures how long people are playing these games across time, data which simply wasn’t accessible in the past.”

“Our study finds little to no evidence of connections between gameplay and well-being, but we know we need much more player data from many more platforms to develop the kind of deeper understanding required to inform policy and shape advice to parents and medical professionals.”

Dr Matti Vuorre, Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author, observes: “One thing is certain – right now there is not enough data and evidence for policymakers and regulators to be developing laws and rules to restrict gameplay among certain groups in a population. I would urge all online platforms, not just games companies, to make it easy for users to donate their data to independent scholars.”

Adds Dr. Niklas Johannes, Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author, said: “This project also shows how important transparency is when studying video games. All data were anonymous, protecting participant privacy, and could therefore be made publicly available. The data are a valuable resource and enables other researchers to test their own research questions. For example, we used these data to show that playing two online shooters had no effect on aggression, and we encourage other scholars to make the most of these data.”

Professor Przybylski concludes: “This work represents substantial progress for the field but we need to cast a much wider net. If we want to truly understand how games influence human health we have to collect data from the thousands of games played every day. Conclusive answers to the questions of how games influence our society will require all of the major console, computer, and mobile platforms to empower their users to effortlessly and ethically donate their play data for independent analysis.”

Read the full paper, ‘Time spent playing video games is unlikely to impact well-being’ authors Dr Matti Vuorre, Dr Niklas Johannes, Dr Kristoffer Magnusson and Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow Dr Andrew K. Przybylski.

Notes for Editors:

The work is part of the Programme on Adolescent Well-Being in the Digital Age funded by the Huo Family Foundation and underwent peer review at the journal Royal Society Open Science.

About the OII:

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good.

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