Online gaming is good for your well-being, according to a recent study by Oxford University that managed to sneak its way onto BBC Radio One news this morning. Wow – despite having a bias, what with this being a gaming site, aren’t there other things going on in the world?

Nevermind, as this is a positive spin on being able to spend more time online without non-gaming naysayers saying gaming rots your brain, that it’s mind-numbing and just for angry kids who want to play Fortnite. Just loiter on Twitter for more than 20 minutes, and you’ll see there’s a wealth of people who can clearly string a sentence together, no their arse from their elbow and as chilled as an evening with Netflix. Phwoar!

But this study isn’t a hall pass to play Call of DutyApex Legends or Shoot Some Stranger In The Head Then Use Abusive Slurs About How Poo They Are – it’s based on the Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville.

Take A Chill Pill, Man

With the co-operation of ‘fan-favourite’ EA Games, but also Nintendo of America, the study by the University of Oxford concluded that online gaming is good for your well-being, contributing to many positives to mental health, especially during the lockdown.

In the study that took place during August and September 2020, Professor Andrew Przybylski – Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and lead author of the study dissected patterns with the two games mentioned above.

Plants Vs Zombies Neighbours
Some plants, yesterday. Source: PR

Until now, most reports were ‘self-report studies’ which weren’t entirely accurate, but new identifiers reported the after-effects of regularly playing games, could be a positive. Depending on the game, and for how long you play.

Unfortunately, the source material is limited, and it would be interesting to see similar studies with the same criteria on other titles such as the Call of Duty series, perhaps. We don’t need science to measure online poker games, however. A quick look on YouTube will define ‘unbalanced’ for certain gamers.

When Online Gaming Is Good For Your Well-Being

This restriction to a couple of titles was a good one, however, as Animal Crossing: New Horizons clearly has had a positive influence in my household alone. During the first lockdown in the UK, my 10-year old was climbing the walls and missed going to school. While gaming isn’t a substitute for learning, she was able to lift her spirits by playing with her friends online and showing off their creative prowess.

Following up on that, according to Professor Przybylski, and covered in the online report by the BBC:

If you play Animal Crossing for four hours a day, every single day, you’re likely to say you feel significantly happier than someone who doesn’t. That doesn’t mean Animal Crossing by itself makes you happy.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Source: BBC

From my perspective, I binged on Animal Crossing: New Horizons for a solid couple of months, not once playing online and have to say that it made me happy. For starters, taking my time to do what I want, how I wanted without grinding everything in one sitting – you can’t rush the game, as you probably know.

But it was also a great bonding experience with my daughter. Despite months and months of trying to get her to try the new games that hit my inbox, this was the game that resonated with her and even better, we got to play together.

The first time around, I was accumulating a sizeable collection of bells by scavenging the island and selling everything, but over time, she picked up new tricks from YouTube and devised her own ways of ‘tarting up our island’. It was around April that I purchased it and every couple of weeks, she gives me a tour of our once one-star island which is now five-stars – all because of her.

Thankfully this second lockdown means she gets to continue to go to school to see her friends, but more importantly, learn. I can’t bear to teach her long division at home – kids shouldn’t find out that their parents aren’t the superheroes they think they are, for as long as possible. Leave it to the professionals.

Online gaming is good for your well-being
Us. Source: Screen capture

Let’s All Go To The Lobby

Still, there are restrictions, so the way she interacts with others outside of our bubble is Among UsAnimal Crossing: New Horizons and Fortnite. As long as the dialogue between players in the latter is acceptable, I’m ok for her to play (especially as she’s so good). Still, I’d be interested to see further studies, as I’m sure other parents would be into Fortnite.

Just last week, I offered to play it with her and some friends. It was quite surprising how good they all were, but there clearly was a pattern of showing off emotes, unlocks they’ve won and general loitering around the lobby as if it were a virtual convenience store. They spent more time here than playing the game.

Is it safe to continue to let her play online as much as she has been (around half a dozen hours a week) and does online gaming contribute to her well-being?

Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a persons’ well-being. 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.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Source: Oxford Internet Institute

So there’s that recent adage of Netflix and chill. How about Animal Crossing and bliss? Thankfully, there’s no euphemism in that last one; otherwise, my daughter would be getting banned.

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