How's this for a conversation starter: "If you play Animal Crossing for four hours a day, every single day, you're likely to say you feel significantly happier than someone who doesn't." The assertion to the BBC comes from Oxford researcher Andrew Przybylski, who is quick to add, "That doesn't mean Animal Crossing by itself makes you happy." Przybylski led what his team bills as a first-of-its kind study into two all-ages video games—Nintendo's Animal Crossing and EA's Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, per an Oxford release. Their main takeaway: Playing the games is associated with greater happiness and well-being. Przybylski says that's interesting in part because it generally flies in the face of years of research about video games.
"Our findings show video games aren't necessarily bad for your health," he says. "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." The study is noteworthy because it might be the first based on actual playing time of more than 3,000 gamers supplied by the game-makers, as opposed to previous studies relying on players' own notoriously inaccurate estimates, per the Guardian. If nothing else, Przybylski says he hopes this will raise the bar for future research and perhaps point to aspects of games that aren't so beneficial. As for why these particular games might help well-being, researchers aren't sure. But Przybylski noted that both have social features in which players interact with one another, like a "digital water cooler." (Read more video games stories.)