I considered many titles for this short review. It could have read “Gaming Improves Mental Health of Teenagers” — that may have garnered a few more clicks — not strictly true though. It could also have read “Gaming Has No Impacts on Mental Health of Teenagers”, however, the data can be seen in two ways.
So, I settled on the simple question so as not to mislead too much. But the long and short of it is that we do not need to be overly concerned with gaming rotting our kids’ brains, causing emotional withdrawal, and a host of mental health problems. In the vast majority of cases there is no impact and in a sizeable proportion heavy gaming seem to improve mental health! So, let’s dig into what this study did and didn’t find.
This data comes from the 2021 OxWell survey which analysis data from surveys of school children between 12 and 18 in the UK. This dataset had 12’725 participants. And what did they find?
They found that:
- 31.2% play games for at least 3.5 hours a day — this is the “heavy gamer” group
- There was no significant correlation between playing games and mental health issues
- 8% reported not gaming
- They classified 6 types of gamers
- 8% were classed as maladaptive (i.e. experience negative effects)
So, on average no real cause for concern. However, there are some surprising and worrying results also. One surprising result is that 44% of heavy gamers experienced higher well being than those who games less or not at all. Who would have though it? On the negative side there is, indeed, a subgroup who do experience negative effects. A small proportion of the heavy gamers experience a loss of control and wellbeing issues.
A notable subgroup was the 2% who are classed as maladaptive phone gamers, playing mostly on their phone, being mostly female, and are more likely to have experienced abuse and other traumatic events. This seems to point that traumatic life experience are pushing some individuals to maladaptive behaviours — and this also opens the door to intervening and being able to identify these and hence also pre-empt the issues.
It therefore seems that gaming is not the cause of mental health issues, but can contribute to underlying issues. Of course, the argument could also be that gaming reduces other activities and so can also over longer terms have a negative impact. However, I reported here that teenagers who spent most time on social media were also most social in person — also a surprise. Whether this translates over to gaming, I don’t know, but good to know at least.
But for now, we know that gaming shouldn’t be a worry for parents or others in society, but we do need to be able to identify and support those who are prone to maladaptive behaviours — be that in gaming, or other areas.