Oxford University Finds That Video Games Can Be Good for Mental Health

There have been many studies in the past done about video games and their potentially harmful effects on the young generation. The purpose behind these research endeavors is to understand the impact that games could have on the way a person behaves.

However, there are also various reports that focus on the benefits that video games can have on a person’s mental health. Last November, Oxford University released the results of a study concerning video games. They concluded that games can be good for mental health.

Their study focuses primarily on two games: Animal Crossing New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. In particular, Animal Crossing New Horizons broke sales records last year, fostering a community of millions of players using the game as a safe haven from the harsh reality of COVID-19 and other events that transpired since the game’s release.

Games like Animal Crossing and Plants vs. Zombies may encourage players to go out and find even more help for their health. The internet has many counseling resources that can provide aid to any person wanting to make a change in their life. The study also has a few interesting details to discuss as well.

Oxford Study breaks new ground

Andrew Przybylski, the lead researcher on the Oxford study, and his team of researchers used actual play-time data for their study. Other video game-related studies only used self-reported time playing, which does not necessarily provide an accurate estimate on how long a person played a game and how the time with the game equated to their positive health changes.

Additionally, the Oxford researchers linked up psychological questionnaires with the true records of time spent playing games. These questionnaires gave researchers the opportunity to compare a player’s feelings one hour into the game with their feelings 20 hours into the title.

“If you play four hours a day of Animal Crossing, you’re a much happier human being, but that’s only interesting because all of the other research before this is done so badly,” Andrew Przybylski said. Thus, the impact of Oxford’s study is also important because others have not painted an accurate picture of how games can help with a person’s cognition.

His conclusions can easily be backed by social media. When Animal Crossing New Horizons released last year, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and other platforms were abuzz with players’ islands, residents, and how they were planning on making their island. During a global pandemic that forced people to stay indoors, Animal Crossing New Horizons helped them enjoy a sense of community even when they couldn’t meet up with friends.


Researchers also remarked on certain limitations of their studies, hoping that in the future, they can improve their studies on video games. For instance, the paper only analyzed the effects of mental health with two games. Furthermore, both games also support online play. Other studies could focus on single-player oriented adventures.

Additionally, researchers concluded that other games may be less wholesome. For instance, on the same day Animal Crossing New Horizons came out, Doom Eternal also released for consoles and PC. Comparing the two games is like comparing night and day. One is about adorable residents living life on an abandoned island, and the other is about a marine soldier ripping and tearing demons apart in the most gruesome way possible.

But it is important to note that people were excited for both Animal Crossing New Horizons and Doom Eternal. More research can focus on the health impacts even of games that are inherently more violent in nature.

Future of Study

Lastly, the paper compared intrinsic enjoyment (playing a game because someone wants to) with extrinsic value (being bullied or peer pressured into playing a game). Hostile players in online games could factor into an individual’s enjoyment of a game as well.

When the Xbox 360 launched, it came with Xbox Live, an online component that allowed players to enjoy multiplayer titles with friends and strangers online. At the time, however, Microsoft did not enforce their servers, which led to voice chat channels filled with people of all ages insulting others for their game performance and often using vulgar language.

Thankfully, the modern Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony platforms are trying their best to make online environments as welcoming of spaces as possible. Sony includes the option to report players who insult others online and attempts to punish them so that they can reduce the number of vulgar places for online gaming.


The Oxford research is a good start for proving the effectiveness of games for mental health, but there are still ways to improve the study. For instance, researchers noted that game companies are not doing much in collecting data from players about their overall enjoyment of a game.

If companies prioritize this type of data collection and provide more concrete data about players’ overall enjoyment, studies such as Oxford can make more comprehensive conclusions about the benefits of gaming.


Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with mytherapist.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.



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