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Stress or stress-buster: what's a video game to you?

Two recent studies on how gaming affects a user's well-being suggest it all depends on the video game you choose

Gamers play video games at an esports hotel E-Zone Denno Kukan, operated by Sanyu Co, in Osaka, Japan, on 24 October. (Photo: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Bloomberg) (Bloomberg)

Earlier this month, gambling website BonusFinder, partnering with sports scientists, measured the heart rates of 14 gamers as they played 16 console, PC and mobile gaming titles most popular at the moment. The heart rates were measured over the course of a 30-minute gaming session. The experiment showed that Mario Kart, FIFA Football, Call Of Duty, Dark Souls and Fortnite were the top 5 stressful games. Gamers who played Mario Kart experienced an average BPM increase of 32.81% over a 30-minute period. Games like Animal Crossing, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Sims, however, were among the most relaxing.

This is somewhat different from the findings of an Oxford University study, released in November, which associates a sense of well-being with games. Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute used industry data from game companies on actual play time for two games, Plants vs Zombies: Battle For Neighborville from Electronic Arts and Animal Crossing: New Horizons from Nintendo. The study suggests that experiences of competence and social connection with others through play may contribute to people’s well-being. More interestingly, it shows that these experiences during play may be more important than the actual amount of time spent on games. One of the key findings is that the actual amount of time spent playing was a small but significant positive factor in people’s sense of 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 person’s 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,” Prof. Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute and lead author of the study, said in an official note.

Apart from exploring the association between objective game time and well-being, the study also examined the role of player experiences, specifically how feelings of autonomy, relatedness, competence, enjoyment and feeling pressured to play related to well-being, the statement explains. The researchers asked 3,274 players to complete a survey designed to measure well-being, self-reported play, and motivational experiences during the playing time. Survey findings were then combined with objective behavioural data for the survey participants collected by the video-game companies.

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