"Animal Crossing" was one of two games used in the study.
  • A new study from Oxford University found a positive correlation between time spent gaming and people's wellbeing.
  • The study focused on 3,274 gamers playing "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" and "Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville."
  • Study lead Professor Andrew Przybylski told Business Insider the study was a "baby step" towards new methods for studying gaming in a more meaningful and nuanced way.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A new study from Oxford University suggests video games could have a positive influence on people's wellbeing.

The study, conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute, focused on two games — "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" and "Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville." The study involved 3,274 gamers over the age of 18.

Working in tandem with the games' creators, Nintendo for Animal Crossing and EA for Plants vs Zombies, the study tracked the amount of time survey respondents spent in-game, and combined this with a survey of players' mental wellbeing.

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"Contrary to many fears that excessive game time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relation between game play and wellbeing," the study found. 

Study lead Professor Andrew Przybylski told Business Insider this was a major step forward for research into the psychological effect of playing video games. Previously, studies have relied on asking subjects to estimate how much time they spend playing, which can be unreliable, he said.

For this study, Nintendo and EA reached out to regular players of their games to invite them to take part in the study. Respondents were then assigned a unique identifier key code, which they plugged in when completing the Oxford survey.

Oxford then sent the keys back to Nintendo and EA, who in turn released the player data. "That way, like nobody had both parts of the puzzle," said Przybylski.

"This study actually has us looking over the shoulder of gamers with a stopwatch," Przybylski said.

He added that reaching out to subjects via Nintendo and EA was helpful, as previous studies have searched for respondents on places like Reddit and gaming addiction forums, which increases the possibility that problem gamers make up part of the sample.

Przybylski emphasized that the study was not definitive, and came with major caveats. "This is two games out of a million […] these are social video games, and this is just a correlation," he said.

He described the study as a "baby step" towards better methodologies for studying gaming, and emphasised that purely studying time spent in-game was not enough to gain a proper understanding of gaming.

"It would be like studying nutrition if all you have was the amount of time that people spent in restaurants," he said.

He's hopeful, however, that the study will be a good proof-of-concept, and could lead to more co-operation between academics and the gaming industry, leading to better studies of gaming behaviors.

"There's a wide range of pro-social and antisocial behaviors that happen in games, and there's a wide range of positive and negative experiences that we might be more or less likely to get into if we're having a good or a bad day," he said.

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