In the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of Oxford and Tilburg University have collaborated with game developer FuturLab to create a unique open online data resource to study the effects of playing video games on the well-being of players, the largest data set on this topic in the world.
The study has been fielding in game data from opted-in participants using a special version of the company’s popular video game, Powerwash Simulator since August 2022. It now has an impressively large data set available from over 11,000 players from 39 countries worldwide. This has been used to create a fully transparent online open resource that is accessible to all.
Full analysis of the study has yet to be published and peer reviewed but will follow in the coming months, looking in more depth at how video game play affects players’ well-being.
In PowerWash Simulator, players clean areas, objects and vehicles in the fictional town of Muckingham, unlocking upgrades that help to clean more efficiently and building up their power washing business as they go. The simple gameplay focuses on relaxation and satisfaction. The research edition of the game tapped into player’s psychological experiences and state of mind during play using an in-game messaging and response system. For the first time players volunteered to participate in research by donating their play data and regularly reporting their mood in the game.
First author, Dr Matti Vuorre, Assistant Professor, Tilburg University explains:
“Despite widespread worries about the impacts of games on the mental health and wellbeing of players, there is little empirical evidence to support or refute these concerns. We set out to address those concerns by collaborating with FuturLab to collect real-time in-play data about how people feel when they are gaming, and not sometime after as is usually done in video game research. Together we have created a fully transparent online resource of gaming data, which as far as we are aware is the largest repository of its kind in the world.”
Co-author and project lead Professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said,
“Although extensively studied, the level of understanding required to address sensationalist headlines and advise policy is lacking, at least partly because much of the science has relied on artificial settings and limited self-report data.
“In our new study, we set out to develop a framework of best practices for researchers, psychologists and data scientists involved in the study of gaming and its impact on mental health and wellbeing. Our data set is published as an open resource to help others in the field go further and deeper in the pursuit of understanding more about the psychological state of gamers. This study is a real game changer that opens the black box of gaming for all.”
The team’s next move is to conduct detailed statistical analyses of the PowerWash dataset and to publish their findings in the coming months as part of their ongoing collaboration with FuturLab.
James Butlin, co-author and Senior Programmer at FuturLab Ltd said:
“From a game developer’s perspective, the opportunity to scientifically measure the level of satisfaction, competency, and general well-being your players feel while playing your game is invaluable – and incredibly exciting!
“I spoke in detail about some of the challenges we faced while implementing the study into PowerWash Simulator during my talk at GDC 2023. We are very proud of our work on the study and hope to inspire others to get involved in similar collaborative research.”
Download the full study. ‘An intensive longitudinal dataset of video game play, well-being and motivations: Case study of PowerWash Simulator’ Co-authors: Matti Vuorre, Kristoffer Magnusson, Niklas Johannes, James Butlin and Andrew K Przybylski.
Notes to Editors
For more information, please contact Sara Spinks/Roz Pacey, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, 01865 278237 / firstname.lastname@example.org
About the study
The study collected data from over 11,000 players, based in 39 countries, over a 222-day period between August 2022 and March 2023. Find out more about the collaboration with FuturLab.
OII | Researchers at Oxford Internet Institute collaborate with Game Developer FuturLab to study mental health of players
Funding and disclosures
The research was financially supported by the Huo Family Foundation and Economic and Social Research Council (ES/W012626/1). In kind technical contributions were made by co-author James Butlin who is an employee of FuturLab.
About the University of Tilburg
At Tilburg University, we seek to study and understand society and in this way we contribute to solving complex societal issues. That is what drives us. And we achieve it through state-of-the-art knowledge in the disciplines of economics, business studies, and entrepreneurship, the social and behavioral sciences, law and public governance, the humanities and digital sciences, and theology.
About Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences (TSB)
Understanding people’s behavior in a changing society. The world in which we live and work is changing dramatically. Keeping up with the times is far from self-evident. As TSB we want to understand how people function as individuals, in relationships, in organizations and in society. We want to enhance adaptability, mental resilience and control over health and well-being.
About the Oxford Internet Institute
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. http://wwwtemp.oii.ox.ac.uk/
FuturLab® is an award-winning game studio based in Brighton, UK. FuturLab® has developed and published remarkable games on PC and console since 2003. The game studio is best known for Velocity 2X, Tiny Trax, Mini-Mech Mayhem and Peaky Blinders: Mastermind and most recently, the highly acclaimed PowerWash Simulator. More information about FuturLab can be found at https://futurlab.co.uk