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Oxford University recently released a study suggesting that playing video games does have some benefits on a player’s mental health. The researchers, Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre, and Andrew K. Przybylski through the Oxford Internet Institute, partnered with Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America to obtain “actual play behavior” to acquire data rather than relying on players self-reporting.

The study found “a small positive relation between game play and well-being” after participants played either Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville or Animal Crossing: New Leaf. After an extended time playing either game, players were asked to take a survey about their experience. Participants in the study were asked about their well-being, motivations, and need satisfaction while playing. The researchers compared their responses to the amount of time the participants played.

Gaming, mental health, and how the two are related

Participants were asked how they felt about various statements on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) after playing either game. Statements included “I experienced a lot of freedom in Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville” and “I played Animal Crossing: New Leaf to escape”.

By asking questions in this manner, the researchers sought to improve how the field of psychology views video games and gaming as an activity. “This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire,” said Andrew Przybylski according to The Guardian. “This lets us explain and understand games as a leisure activity.”

Just four hours and you’re a happier person

The researchers set out to show that a study about video games can be done ethically and transparently in a way consistent with other high academic standards and to provide better evidence on the link between playing games and mental health. The study is also significant for the researchers because it “shows that if you play four hours a day of Animal Crossing, you’re a much happier human being, but that’s only interesting because all of the other research before this is done so badly.”

“You have really respected, important bodies, like the World Health Organization and the NHS, allocating attention and resources to something that there’s literally no good data on. And it’s shocking to me, the reputational risk that everyone’s taking, given the stakes,” says Przybylski. “For them to turn around and be like, ‘hey, this thing that 95% of teenagers do? Yeah, that’s addictive, no, we don’t have any data,’ that makes no sense.”