Video games get blamed for a lot. There are long-standing debates about whether violence in video games leads to real-world aggression, or whether video game “addiction” is something we should worry about. And some people have broader fears that more time spent on screens negatively affects our mental health and wellbeing.
However, an increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.
Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.
Two companies, Electronic Arts and Nintendo, provided the team with data from players of Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons respectively. The companies sent out surveys to hundreds of thousands of adult players; these included a wellbeing measure, in which participants rated how often they’d experienced six positive and six negative feelings in the past two weeks. Crucially, the companies also provided data on the number and length of the players’ gaming sessions during those two weeks.