Lack of information from game makers has long been an issue for scientists hoping to better understand player behaviors.
The new study, which looked at how video games affect mental health, is unusual because it used information provided by the video game makers themselves. It comes at a time when video game sales have increased. Many people are staying at home because of the coronavirus health crisis. And in many countries, public health officials have set limits on public life.
The paper, released by the Oxford Internet Institute, is based on questions presented to people who played two video games. Those games were Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The study used data provided by the game makers Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America. It showed how much time the people in the study spent playing the games. Earlier research used estimates from the players themselves.
The researchers said they found the actual amount of time spent playing was a small but positive factor in people's well-being - the state of being happy, healthy, or successful.
The paper said the level of enjoyment that players get from a game could be more important for their mental health than playing time.
The paper has not yet been peer reviewed. Peer review is a process by which a study is examined by a group of experts in the same field.
The study results could raise questions about ideas that gaming causes aggression or addiction.
"Our findings show video games aren't necessarily bad for your health," said Andrew Przybylski, the institute's director of research. "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."
Regulate means to make rules or laws that control people or things.
Joseph Hilgard is an assistant professor of social psychology at Illinois State University. He noted some limitations in the study. He suggested that the data does not directly show that video games have an effect on well-being. Instead, Hilgard described the data as "correlational," which suggests that two or more things change or happen together.
Paul Croarkin of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota said he had "lingering questions" about the study. Croarkin has studied video games and children. He said the self-reporting nature of the study was a weakness. But he added that the researchers presented their findings in a balanced way.
For the study, the researchers questioned 2,756 people who played the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. They also questioned 518 players of Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. All the players were asked to complete a questionnaire on their experiences. Their answers were matched up against playing time recorded by the video game companies.
Andrew Przybylski suggested that researchers need to work more with the video game industry "to study how games impact a wider, and more diverse, sample of players over time."
He added, "We'll need more and better data to get to the heart of the effects of games, for good or ill, on mental health."
I'm John Russell.