FuturLab and University of Oxford Launch New Open Data Resource for Studying the Effect of Playing Video Games on Well-Being

In a groundbreaking initiative, the University of Oxford and Tilburg University have teamed up with game developer FuturLab to create an innovative open online data resource for studying the impact of video game play on players’ well-being. This comprehensive data set, collected from a research version of FuturLab’s popular video game, PowerWash Simulator, marks the first-of-its-kind study on this topic and currently stands as the largest data repository available worldwide.

Since August 2022, the study has been gathering in-game data from willing participants who have been playing the specially designed version of PowerWash Simulator. The data set now boasts an impressive collection from over 11,000 players across 39 countries. This vast amount of information has been utilized to establish a fully transparent online resource that can be accessed by anyone interested in the subject.

While the complete analysis and peer-reviewed results are yet to be published, the researchers plan to release them in the following months, providing a more in-depth examination of how video game play affects the well-being of players.

PowerWash Simulator offers players the opportunity to clean various areas, objects, and vehicles in the fictional town of Muckingham. By unlocking upgrades and expanding their power washing business, players engage in simple gameplay that aims to promote relaxation and satisfaction. The research edition of the game integrated an in-game messaging and response system to tap into players’ psychological experiences and states of mind during play. For the first time, players volunteered to participate in research by donating their play data and regularly reporting their mood within the game.

Dr. Matti Vuorre, Assistant Professor at Tilburg University and the study’s first author, explains the motivation behind this research initiative: “Despite widespread worries about the impacts of games on the mental health and well-being of players, there is little empirical evidence to support or refute these concerns. We set out to address those concerns by collaborating with FuturLab to collect real-time in-play data about how people feel when they are gaming, and not sometime after as is usually done in video game research. Together we have created a fully transparent online resource of gaming data, which as far as we are aware is the largest repository of its kind in the world.”

Professor Andrew Przybylski, project lead from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and co-author of the study, adds, “Although extensively studied, the level of understanding required to address sensationalist headlines and advise policy is lacking, at least partly because much of the science has relied on artificial settings and limited self-report data. In our new study, we set out to develop a framework of best practices for researchers, psychologists, and data scientists involved in the study of gaming and its impact on mental health and well-being. Our data set is published as an open resource to help others in the field go further and deeper in the pursuit of understanding more about the psychological state of gamers. This study is a real game changer that opens the black box of gaming for all.”

Moving forward, the team plans to conduct thorough statistical analyses of the PowerWash dataset and publish their findings in the coming months as part of their ongoing collaboration with FuturLab.

James Butlin, co-author and Senior Programmer at FuturLab Ltd, shares his perspective from a game developer’s point of view: “From a game developer’s perspective, the opportunity to scientifically measure the level of satisfaction, competency, and general well-being your players feel while playing your game is invaluable – and incredibly exciting! I spoke in detail about some of the challenges we faced while implementing the study into PowerWash Simulator during my talk at GDC 2023. We are very proud of our work on the study and hope to inspire others to get involved in similar collaborative research.”

By creating this open data resource, FuturLab, the University of Oxford, and Tilburg University are paving the way for a more evidence-based understanding of the effects of video game play on players’ mental well-being. With access to this vast data set, researchers, psychologists, and data scientists can delve deeper into the psychological state of gamers and contribute to the development of best practices in studying gaming’s impact on mental health.

As the study progresses, researchers will conduct meticulous statistical analyses of the PowerWash dataset. Their findings, which will be published in the near future, promise to provide valuable insights into the relationship between video game play and players’ well-being.

This collaborative effort between academia and the gaming industry represents a significant step forward in bridging the gap between public concerns and scientific understanding of the effects of video games. By shedding light on the psychological experiences and states of mind of players during gameplay, this study has the potential to dispel misconceptions and inform policies that are grounded in empirical evidence.

As the gaming industry continues to evolve and innovate, it is crucial to have research initiatives like this that explore the psychological impact of video games on players. The open data resource created by FuturLab, the University of Oxford, and Tilburg University not only contributes to the scientific understanding of gaming’s effects on well-being but also opens up possibilities for future collaborations and research endeavors in this field.

With the availability of this unprecedented data set, researchers can delve into the complexities of video game play and its relationship to mental health. It is through such rigorous and transparent research that we can build a comprehensive understanding of the role video games play in our lives and ensure a balanced and informed approach to discussions surrounding their effects on well-being.

The collaboration between FuturLab, the University of Oxford, and Tilburg University has yielded a groundbreaking open data resource for studying the impact of video game play on well-being. With an extensive data set collected from PowerWash Simulator, researchers can now analyze the psychological experiences of players and contribute to a better understanding of gaming’s effects on mental health. By providing an open resource, this study paves the way for future research and collaboration, ultimately fostering a more evidence-based approach to discussions about video games and well-being.

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