(CNN) — Playing video games may improve your mental health and make you happier, according to a scientific study that used industry data from gaming companies to analyze players’ wellbeing.
The research by the University of Oxford analyzed the effects of playing two popular video games: Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” and Electronic Arts’ “Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville.”
It found that time spent playing the games was associated with players reporting that they felt happier.
But the study was limited to those two titles, and researchers did not explicitly conclude that increased play time was what caused participants to experience better mental health.
“Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a person’s well-being,” Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute and the study’s lead author, said.
“In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health — and regulating video games could withhold those benefits from players.”
The study used data and survey responses from 518 players of “Plants vs. Zombies” and 2,756 players of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”
The games’ developers shared anonymous data about people’s playing habits, and researchers surveyed those gamers separately about their wellbeing.
The approach marked the first time that developers have shared their own data with academics for a major study on the impact of video games.
Previous research on the issue “has almost exclusively relied on self-reports of play behaviour, which are known to be inaccurate,” the authors wrote in the study, which was published on the PsyArXiv Preprints platform.
It comes after years of debate about the impact of video games on the mental health of young people, and amid a pandemic that has caused sales of some titles to skyrocket.
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” released in March, has found particular success. That month it sold 5 million digital copies, the most digital copies of a console title in a single month, according to Nielsen’s SuperData, which analyzes the gaming industry.
The social simulation game places a central character in a village populated by animals, and features its own version of the stock market, where users can sell their turnips to raccoon characters at five or six times the going rate to get rich.
“Plants vs Zombies” is a third-person shooter in which players can control either of the titular creatures.
Researchers suggested that the “experiences of competence and social connection with others” offered by the games may have contributed to the results.
But the study’s focus on just two games meant they couldn’t draw conclusions about the impact of other genres or gaming platforms.
And authors stressed that further collaborative research should be done to determine whether it was the games themselves that caused improved mental wellbeing.
“We are optimistic that collaborations of this sort will deliver the evidence required to advance our understanding of human play and provide policymakers the insights into how they might shape, for good or ill, our health,” they added.
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