Study Suggests Video Games Do Not Impact Well-Being

A recent University of Oxford study of 39,000 participants on video games and well-being concluded that gaming has no measurable impact on well-being or overall life satisfaction.

To study this, the researchers collected data from some of the biggest game makers, including Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and Ubisoft. Each of the publishers sent out survey invitations to active players of one of their most popular games, such as Apex Legends and Eve online. The editors sent three surveys to those who agreed to participate, spaced two weeks apart. They also remotely collected data on how much each participant played during those time intervals.

These surveys included questions about participants’ well-being and life satisfaction, such as:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. What step of the ladder did you feel you were on personally in the last two weeks?”

This also included questions about game motivation. It measured the extent to which each person felt they wanted to play video games (intrinsic motivation) or felt they had to (extrinsic motivation). This separates those who enjoy gaming as a hobby from those who see it as a chore or addiction.

In other words, each participant had to:

  1. Answer questions about their well-being over the past two weeks
  2. wait two weeks
  3. Answer questions about their well-being over the past two weeks
  4. wait two weeks
  5. Answer questions about their well-being over the past two weeks

This allowed the researchers to analyze data on how well-being and life satisfaction changed over time and how this affected the time each person spent playing video games between surveys.

The researchers argued that if video games make people’s lives worse, they could watch it for over six weeks. If video games negatively affected well-being, those who played video games a lot would report six weeks later that their lives were worse. Those who spent very little time gaming would likely see less of a difference over the same period.

When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that there was almost no difference between people who played a lot of video games and those who played very few. For example, on the “ladder” question of life satisfaction, people who played video games the most reported that their lives were, on average, 0.013 rungs lower than those who played games the least.

However, those who reported feeling them would have to gamble differed from those who said they gambled because they searched to. That is, those who gambled because they enjoyed games reported higher life satisfaction than those who gambled because they felt compelled to do so.

Given this data, the researchers concluded that video games are unlikely to affect people’s mental health as long as gaming is a hobby. However, they acknowledged that the study had a number of shortcomings. For example:

  1. The percentage of players who accepted invitations to participate in the study was extremely low. To the The crew 2For example, 1,013,000 invites were sent to players, but only 457 of them accepted. This is called selection bias — it seems likely that the few hundred people who agreed to take part in a study behave differently than the millions who didn’t.
  2. Each of the games the researchers selected has a significant multiplayer component, so their conclusion doesn’t necessarily apply to games played by people alone.
  3. Many respondents did not complete all three surveys. The study had no way of considering someone who dropped out of the study because their life had significantly deteriorated. Also, those who dropped out tended to be younger, had lower life satisfaction, and gambled less than those who stayed on all three surveys. All of these differences may have influenced the data.
  4. The study only lasted six weeks, which is not long enough to see gradual effects on well-being. This is especially important since many play video games their entire lives. If video games affect mental health very slowly, this study would not capture it.
  5. The study was correlative, so “confounders” could have affected the results if they showed a difference between the groups. For example, if a participant became unemployed, their life satisfaction might have decreased and their time spent playing video games might have increased. The data would imply that it was the video games’ fault that the participant’s life was worse, when in reality it was a third variable affecting both.

In my opinion, these shortcomings don’t reflect badly on the researchers—almost all psychological studies have similar problems. (It’s hard to study people.) The study seems to provide compelling evidence that video games don’t have a major negative impact on those who consider them a hobby over a period of several weeks.

This is consistent with a number of other studies confirming that gambling is generally a harmless pastime and other studies showing that it can become harmful to a small number of people who have lost control.

This is good news for gamers and concerned parents who fear gaming is harming their child. This study suggests that as long as gaming remains a hobby and not an obsession, it will have no measurable impact on an individual.