‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ may actually be good for you

Data from the publishers helped the researchers to gain a more accurate understanding of how long people spent playing each game, rather than having to rely on player estimates. “Through access to data on peoples’ playing time, for the first time we’ve been able to investigate the relation between actual gameplay behavior and subjective well-being, enabling us to deliver a template for crafting high-quality evidence to support health policymakers,” the study’s lead author, Professor Andrew Przybylski, said in a statement.

Decades of previous research, according to Przybylski, indicated people tended to be unhappier the more they played games. He told the BBC that the social features of AC: New Horizons and PvZ could be a key reason for this study’s deviation.

“I don’t think people plow a bunch of time into games with a social aspect unless they’re happy about it,” he said. “It’s like a digital watercooler.”

The researchers found that a player’s in-game experiences may be more critical for their well-being than merely the amount of time they spent playing. Players who derive “genuine enjoyment from the games experience more positive well-being,” the researchers said. Additionally, players may have found the games a useful method of connecting with others amid COVID-19 social distancing measures.

However, the study indicated gaming perhaps isn’t in and of itself a tonic for one’s emotional health. Researchers noted that the findings aligned “with past research suggesting people whose psychological needs weren’t being met in the ‘real world’ might report negative well-being from play.”