Many Adolescents Game a Lot Without Negative Effects on Their Well-being

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  • Almost one-third of students reported spending at least 3.5 hours each day playing games.
  • Most of these “heavy” gamers did not report any well-being issues, with nearly half reporting better well-being than those who play games to a lesser extent or not at all.
  • A small proportion (1 in 12 students) reported low well-being and loss of control over gaming. They were more likely to be female and mobile phone gamers with a history of aggressive behavior, anxiety, or experience of abuse.

A new study published by University of Oxford researchers in the open-access journal JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting shows that although many school-age adolescents are spending considerable time gaming, it does not have a negative impact on their well-being.

The OxWell Student Survey is one of the largest school surveys of adolescent health and well-being in England. More than 12,000 secondary school–aged students (12-18 years old) took part in the latest survey in June-July 2021 and provided information on how much they game.

Almost one-third (31.2%) of students that answered questions on their gaming reported spending at least 3.5 hours each day playing games on any electronic device (“heavy” gamers), but one-fifth (21.8%) of them reported not engaging in any gaming. The study identified different profiles of adolescents who game for longer periods of time based on their psychological well-being, how much time they spent playing games on different electronic devices, and how much control they have over their gaming behaviors. They found that most of the “heavy” gamers were experienced no negative effects with regard to their well-being, and 44% of “heavy” gamers reported higher well-being than those who play games to a lesser extent or not at all.

Our findings suggest that there is a change in how adolescents are spending their free time with a substantial proportion choosing to spend most of this time playing video games. It is reassuring to see that, for most, this is not related to co-occurring wellbeing issues or mental ill-health. These findings suggest that, rather than worrying about the time spent playing video games, we should explore the opportunity of video gaming as a potential tool to find more affordable, creative and less stigmatising ways to reach and help adolescents experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties. [Dr Simona Skripkauskaite, Oxford Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry; lead author]

The study highlights, however, that this was not the case for all participants. One in 12 adolescents who were “heavy” gamers did report a loss of control over gaming and well-being issues. They were more likely to be female and report gaming on their mobile phones. They were also, however, more likely to report previous experiences of abuse or anxiety and aggressive behaviors, suggesting that those with traumatic experiences and mental health issues may have led them to turn to gaming as a coping mechanism.

Our findings are similar to those in adult gaming populations and highlight that the majority are not experiencing negative effects gaming. There is, however, an important subgroup of adolescents who are more likely to show signs of problematic use of gaming and lower mental health, and these findings can help us better identify these young people who are more likely to be females who are playing on their phones. [Mina Fazel, professor of adolescent psychiatry, University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry; coauthor]

This research was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaboration Oxford and Thames Valley at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the Westminster Foundation.

Original article

Skripkauskaite S, Fazel M, the OxWell Study Team
Time Spent Gaming, Device Type, Addiction Scores, and Well-being of Adolescent English Gamers in the 2021 OxWell Survey: Latent Profile Analysis
JMIR Pediatr Parent 2022;5(4):e41480

PMID: 36399378

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