Gaming does not appear harmful to mental health, unless the gamer can't stop

According to the largest-ever study of nearly 40,000 gamers and their gaming habits, which was carried out over six weeks by a team from Oxford's Internet Institute, players' mental health does not appear to be being harmed by the hours spent playing popular video games. Societies may shudder when a hot new video game is released. However, this does not mean that the research did not raise certain questions. The team contends that much more research is required before tech regulators can truly rest easy.

No causal relationship between gaming and bad mental health was discovered, regardless of the type of game that was being played, according to study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. However, the research did reveal a noticeable difference in the experiences of gamers who play "because they want to" and those who play "because they feel they have to," according to Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, an OII Senior Research Fellow.

He asserts, "We discovered that [in terms of gamers' sense of wellbeing], it actually doesn't matter how much they played. The quality of the gaming, not its number, was what mattered. They felt worse if they thought they had to play. The findings did not indicate that whether people played because they enjoyed it, it had an impact on their mental health. They appeared to feel really good about it.

The groundbreaking poll of gamers was the most thorough to date, including numerous platforms and seven distinct games, including more casual titles like Apex Legends and Eve Online as well as more intense ones like Gran Turismo Sport and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. And whether the game involves traveling to a new village with talking animals, as in Animal Crossing, or participating in a battle royale-style game, as in Apex Legends, adds Professor Przybylski, there was no difference in the impact on mental health.

Nearly 40,000 participants approved the use of their gaming data, which is collected by the platforms and belongs to the players, for this study. Players have frequently kept journals of their feelings toward gaming in earlier research. However, according to Professor Przybylski, the availability of real-time gaming data merely provided a tantalizing glimpse into the effects of gaming. Additionally, although though the OII has made the data accessible to other academics, it only provides restricted access and represents a drop in the ocean of potential data availability.

According to Professor Przybylski, there are around 1 billion gamers globally. Only the Nintendo platform has 3,000 games. People play a variety of games, and we were able to get data on 39,000 players of only seven well-known titles.

Professor Przybylski claims that in order to provide the answers parents like him want, "We need to collect big representative samples and we need to do it at the platform level. When you consider that Tesco's and other supermarkets sell thousands of different items and that customers fill a variety of trollies, looking at only seven games is equivalent to looking at seven different cuisines.

Professor Przybylski, who is also a father, grew up playing video games, and he claims that such study is necessary to comprehend the true effects of gaming on the individual. There is still much to learn about gaming, even while current study shows that it may only have a detrimental impact on people who feel forced to play, rather than on all users.

He claims that these are only the initial stages in learning how gaming fits into players' life. And it appears that the main consideration is why you are playing. Although this is a fascinating research, much work remains.

However, months of discussions on the use of the data with the gaming platforms came before the research and were followed by months of analysis. According to Professor Przybylski, analyzing the data itself was the simple part. It is challenging to convince everyone to agree that unbiased, rigorous science is in the best interests of their users given the complicated ties the Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo platforms have with hundreds of game companies. The data, however, is the property of the players, not the platforms or the game creators, as Professor Przybylski notes. "Players have the legal right to volunteer their data...it would be an extraordinary step forward if we gathered data at the platform level," he says.

"Players want to know what influence gaming has," he continues. Scientists are curious. Parents are curious. The question is for the government. I'm curious, and the answer is available. This information must be accessible to anyone and simple to share.

"If the main gaming platforms care about their players' well-being, they need to empower gamers and scientists to learn about how their products effect us, for good or bad," writes Professor Przybylski in his conclusion.