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Societies may tremble when a hot new video game is released, but the hours spent playing popular video games do not appear to be damaging players’ mental health, according to the largest-ever survey of nearly 40,000 gamers and their gaming habits, which was conducted over six weeks by a team from Oxford’s Internet Institute. That does not mean, however, that the research did not throw up some concerns – and, the team argues, much more information is needed before tech regulators, can really rest easy.

Young male wearing headphones looking at a computer screen

The research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, found no ‘causal link’ between gaming and poor mental health – whatever sort of games are being played. But Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, OII Senior Research Fellow (Oxford Internet Institute), says the research did show a distinct difference in the experience of gamers who play ‘because they want to’ and those who play ‘because they feel they have to’.  

He maintains, ‘We found it really does not matter how much gamers played [in terms of their sense of well-being]. It wasn’t the quantity of gaming, but the quality that counted…if they felt they had to play, they felt worse.  If they played because they loved it, then the data did not suggest it affected their mental health. It seemed to give them a strong positive feeling.’

The ground-breaking survey of gamers was the most comprehensive to date, taking in multiple platforms and seven different games, including basic games, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, racing simulators such as Gran Turismo Sport and more competitive games, such as Apex Legends and Eve Online.  And, says Professor Przybylski, there was no difference in impact on mental health – whether game involved moving to a new town with talking animals, as in Animal Crossing, or taking part in a battle royal-style game, such as Apex Legends.

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website