You don’t feel better – or worse – of playing video games

A good title of a study tells you in one line what’s it all about. This is certainly the case here: Time spent playing video games is unlikely to impact the well-being, and that impact has been checked both ways. The data of 38935 active players was used to analyse the impact. The data consisted both of game analytics and regular self-reports on well-being and motivation. The longitudinal design was needed to have a clearer image of the causal relation:

This study was designed to take the first steps toward identifying the real-world causal impacts of game play on well-being over time. The longitudinal design required us to specify a temporal lag for the hypothetical causal effect. We chose a two-week window for several reasons. Theoretically, video game effects in the short term should accumulate over a short time frame if such effects are indeed consequential, and not transient and immediately dissipating. Practically, the lag needed to be large enough to capture enough play behaviour. If people play games occasionally, a one-day lag might miss most of their play. Last, we decided to measure affective well-being and life satisfaction. Affective well-being is often measured in the short term, whereas life satisfaction is often measured in the long term. A two-week window allowed us to measure both with high fidelity without risking making the measure awkward for participants.

And what are the results?

Policymakers, healthcare professionals and game developers urgently need to know if video games influence players’ well-being. We provided evidence on the causal impacts of play on well-being using objectively logged game-play behaviour. Our results show that the impact of time spent playing video games on well-being is probably too small to be subjectively noticeable and not credibly different from zero.

Abstract of the study:

Video games are a massively popular form of entertainment, socializing, cooperation and competition. Games’ ubiquity fuels fears that they cause poor mental health, and major health bodies and national governments have made far-reaching policy decisions to address games’ potential risks, despite lacking adequate supporting data. The concern–evidence mismatch underscores that we know too little about games’ impacts on well-being. We addressed this disconnect by linking six weeks of 38 935 players’ objective game-behaviour data, provided by seven global game publishers, with three waves of their self-reported well-being that we collected. We found little to no evidence for a causal connection between game play and well-being. However, results suggested that motivations play a role in players’ well-being. For good or ill, the average effects of time spent playing video games on players’ well-being are probably very small, and further industry data are required to determine potential risks and supportive factors to health.

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