Adults who grew up before the age of online interactive video gaming tend to regard it as merely a way of passing time and see long hours spent at a console as not only unhealthy for young minds and bodies but positively dangerous.
This year the British government announced plans for laws to protect children from “excessive screen time” playing video games. The World Health Organization has labelled “gaming disorder” an addictive behaviour.
But newly released research shows playing interactive video games online with remote opponents and partners may actually be good for you, especially when isolated during an extended pandemic.
As soon as Covid-19 plunged communities into lockdowns that brought a halt to normal life, millions of people switched on their games consoles. Video-game internet traffic in the US rose by 75% during the first week many states went into lockdown in March.
Non-gamers were desperate to join in and Sony struggled to ship enough of its latest PlayStation consoles to satisfy demand.
One of the year’s most popular games, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”, in which players simulate living on an island inhabited by talking creatures, sold more than 14 million copies between April and September making it just about the top selling game for Nintendo’s latest console. Players boast on social media of racking up hundreds of hours at their favourite games.
Too much screen time? A new study concludes that this may be time well spent.
Researchers at Oxford University collected data on the gaming habits and mental health of players of two video games in the UK and North America.
2,537 participants, average age 31, played “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”, and 468, average age 35, played “Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville”.
The Oxford researchers worked with the games’ developers to record when participants played during August and September. Their servers also logged exactly how long participants’ sessions lasted because when asked to self-report, people tended to overestimate their playing time.
The research teams also measured the players’ emotional well-being by surveying how often they reported experiencing each of six positive and six negative feelings while playing.
Their analysis found that participants who played for longer reported feeling better, on average, than those who barely played at all during the study.
The researchers did not go so far as to claim that longer playing times positively affected well-being, as people who already felt good might have been more inclined to pick up a controller.
They did find, however, that certain positive feelings experienced while playing, such as a sense of freedom and developing a skill, improved the players’ sense of well-being.
Their mood was also boosted by a greater feeling of social connection from playing with others, crucial when friends cannot meet in person.
Andrew Przybylski, one of the academics behind the study, says there is a lack of robust evidence for many of the supposed harmful effects of video games. The participants in the study were all adults and more research is needed to find ways of ensuring that younger gamers are adequately protected from harm without spoiling their fun.
But the dangers of long hours spent at the gaming console may be exaggerated.
There are many worse ways to pass the time during lockdowns.