The two games they chose were Nintendo's Animal Crossing and EAs Plants vs Zombies. A total of 3,274 players over the age of 18 participated in the anonymous study, provided to the institute by the game publishers. While Nintendo only provided playtimes, EA provided play time, achievements, and emoticons used by the players. Lastly, the players were asked about how they felt during their time.
The results had surprised the team, according to the head of the project Prof. Andrew Przybylski:
"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."
This is in contrast to Przybylski's past research, which suggested that the more you play, the less happy you would be. One theory as to why the change was because of the social aspects of the games. In both examples, players could interact with other human players.
"I don't think people plough a bunch of time into games with a social aspect unless they're happy about it. . . It's like a digital water-cooler."
They also reported that those who were compelled to play as a form of escapism were less content, further reinforcing the idea that the social aspect was the determining factor.
Przybylski's closing statement is that we need to increase the degree of research between gaming and psychology. They pressed for more game publishers and creators to share player data to researchers.
"We need to study more games, and more players, over more time. . . It would be like letting psychologists study all the playgrounds in the world. . . We might build a theory of bullying or learn how people build new friendships. My hope is that this fosters curiosity and collaboration and open data."
There's something to be discussed about the nature of data privacy in this regard. But at least the betterment of psychology is a better reason to collect data than forming a better advertising profile.
We also wonder how this data might have been different if the game was a less colorful and happy one. Both Animal Crossing and Plants vs Zombies are bright, friendly, colorful games. We wonder if they would have similar results for social game that are more dreary or mature, like Elder Scrolls Online or Phasmophobia. Either way, it seems the study implies less that playing makes you happy, but that socializing, even through video games, makes you happy.