If you’re one of the many gamers who has plowed hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons this year, that could have made a positive impact on your well-being. Oxford University researchers used data from the Nintendo Switch smash hit and Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville to look into how those games can affect your well-being.
Nintendo and EA provided anonymized data on playtime for each game. The PvZ data included details on player achievements as well as the emoticons gamers used. That information was linked to a survey containing questions about players’ well-being — 3,274 gamers took part in the study.
Data from the publishers helped the researchers to gain a more accurate understanding of how long people spent playing each game, rather than having to rely on player estimates. “Through access to data on peoples’ playing time, for the first time we’ve been able to investigate the relation between actual gameplay behavior and subjective well-being, enabling us to deliver a template for crafting high-quality evidence to support health policymakers,” the study’s lead author, Professor Andrew Przybylski, said in a statement.
Decades of previous research, according to Przybylski, indicated people tended to be unhappier the more they played games. He told the BBC that the social features of AC: New Horizons and PvZ could be a key reason for this study’s deviation.
"I don't think people plow a bunch of time into games with a social aspect unless they're happy about it," he said. "It's like a digital watercooler."
The researchers found that a player’s in-game experiences may be more critical for their well-being than merely the amount of time they spent playing. Players who derive “genuine enjoyment from the games experience more positive well-being,” the researchers said. Additionally, players may have found the games a useful method of connecting with others amid COVID-19 social distancing measures.
However, the study indicated gaming perhaps isn’t in and of itself a tonic for one’s emotional health. Researchers noted that the findings aligned “with past research suggesting people whose psychological needs weren’t being met in the ‘real world’ might report negative well-being from play.”