The positive effects of gaming – their psychological and practical benefits – has become a fertile field for researchers in recent years, boosted by health organizations seeking new ways to treat patients, as well as commercial entities with skin in the game.
Recent reports include one from Skillprint (a company dedicated to science-based gaming), another from the Entertainment Software Association, and – about a year ago – a one from the National Institute of Health. All are based on consumer surveys.
‘Games Can Be Good For The Mind‘ from Skillprint is described as an “empirical” study into the cognitive and psychological benefits of mobile games. It examines “relations between personality, game genre preferences, and gamer motivations”.
According to the study’s authors: “The data paints a nuanced picture of how mobile games can be a force for good when it comes to mental well-being,” adding that the information is actionable for game developers, educators, and health professionals.
Agreeableness and emotionality
Skillset collected data from almost 500 online participants, using widely accepted psychologists’ preferred personality aspects, which we all have, to a greater or lesser extent – conscientiousness, openness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotionality. The researchers matched these findings with the participants’ stated gaming habits, including the frequency of gaming, preferred genres, and primary motivations for playing games.
The participants played a range of mobile games taken from a silo of 28, and analyzed their mood before playing the game, and their stated change in mood after the session. Participants evaluated each game on six characteristics: fun, engaging, challenging, boring, frustrating, and confusing. The games included hits like Subway Surfers, Angry Birds 2, Wordscapes, and Flow Free.
The results demonstrated a correlation between a person’s stated personality, and how their favorite games played into that self-evaluation. It also showed how their favorite games boosted their self-esteem, generally through the prism of their sense of self.
“The data show significant, unique relationships between each gaming motivation and personality, which generally support the idea that players play to their strengths,” states the report. “Players seeking immersion or inspiration are more open-minded, and those seeking to socialize in games are more extraverted. Players seeking relaxation are more introverted, and more emotional players are less likely to seek challenge. Younger players were more interested in finding challenge and focus.”
Additionally, the researchers introduced non-gaming entertainments into the mix, to see how they compare. These included a nature video, a guided breathing exercise, and an opportunity to write a short journal entry about a joyful memory. These too performed well, in line with the results returned from playing games. They also showed a correlation between personality type and preference. The inference is that playing games to ease psychological tenses works in much the same way as much older pastimes.
The report goes on to rate various games according to how they successfully play to a person’s current mood, within the context of their personality type. For example, Penguin Isle, a game about nurturing penguins, scores highly in the “compassion” subset, alongside the nature video. Players also report that the game helps them feel calm.
According to the report’s authors, this breakdown of games / mood / personality type can be used to target audiences more effectively. They recommend that developers “consider why players choose your games: are they seeking challenge, relaxation, or community? Test whether you are building games that resonate most with people similar to you, and try to incorporate elements that appeal to the broad spectrum of personality traits. Personalization is an essential path to broadening a game’s appeal.”
The ESA’s separate report follows in that organization’s tradition of boosting the output of gaming publishers. However, it also tracks with the prevailing trend of research that demonstrates positive benefits for gaming.
Called Power of Play Global Report 2023, it surveyed 13,000 players around the world, and asked them why they play games, and what benefits they think come from such activity. 69 percent of respondents said they play games to “have fun,” which makes sense, since “fun” is the widely accepted and general point of video games.
63 percent said they play to pass the time. 58 percent said games help them to relax and to relieve stress, while 55 percent said games “help me feel less isolated [or] lonely by connecting me to other people”.
Drilling down on those numbers, the researchers found that 64 percent agreed that playing games “provides me with a healthy outlet from everyday challenges”. A similar number agreed with the simple notion that games “make me feel happier,” while about half said that games help them get through difficult times in their lives.
Ir added: “Scientific studies have increasingly found video games provide an important service as a global gathering place for friends, a tool for positive mental health and an outlet for creativity, in addition to offering fun and escapism.”
The report cites a ream of independent studies that come to similar conclusions. It states: “Players are not the only ones who are seeing and experiencing the positive effects of playing video games – in fact, a burgeoning body of academic, peer reviewed research is challenging outdated assumptions about video games and the 3 billion people worldwide who play them.”
Last year, the U.S. National Institute of Health released a report based on the study of 2,000 children. It found that “those who reported playing video games for three hours per day or more performed better on cognitive skills tests involving impulse control and working memory compared to children who had never played video games”.
“This study adds to our growing understanding of the associations between playing video games and brain development,” said director Nora Volkow, M.D. “Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behavior and mental health problems. This study suggests that there may also be cognitive benefits associated with this popular pastime, which are worthy of further investigation.”