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Playing for the long term doesn't make you (un)happy

Playing for the long term doesn’t make you (un)happy

First, the good news: prolonged play does not make you unhappy. Or it cannot be demonstrated in a large and comprehensive investigation. But no: it won’t make you happier either.

A new study says that it doesn’t matter whether you spend many hours or a few hours playing. Not for your mental health anyway. Whether you find reassuring news will depend on your gaming behavior — and that of your teens.

Researchers at Oxford University have done extensive work, but their conclusions should not be generalized as such. First, in cooperation with the game developers, they put together a test group of about 40,000 players. Then follow it for six weeks. Exactly how much participants played was measured. They had to indicate how satisfied they were. They also had to decide why they were playing and how free they felt to stop.

All test participants were people who had played one of these seven games: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Social game with little movement), Apex legends (Fortnite-esque shooting game), eve onlinee (online role playing game), Outriders (more violent role-playing game), Forza Horizon 4And the Gran Turismo Sport And the Crew 2 (The last three are racing games). There’s a little bit of everything, but there’s absolutely no roving time to waste candy crush.

Chinese restrictions

What did you turn? There is no provable link, let alone a causal link, between the number of hours playing and the well-being of these 40,000 people. They don’t get miserable the longer they play, and they don’t play more because they feel miserable (or happy).

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There appears to be a relationship between people’s motivation to play and their well-being. People who say they play because they want to feel better are better than people who say they play because they can’t resist. But this association, the researchers say, is limited and needs further investigation. In any case, when politicians and doctors talk about the positive or negative consequences of gaming, it is better not to focus blindly on the number of hours of gaming, scientists conclude.

The negative consequences of our digital habits have been a difficult topic for years. And not only in Europe. Last year, China imposed severe restrictions on its young people: they could play online for only three hours a week. Video games, especially violent games, have been identified in the past as responsible for violent behaviour, usually without much concrete evidence. But toys (of a completely different kind) are also regularly used for therapeutic applications.