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Gaming has experienced a major boost in 2020. Across all platforms, consumers have embraced the alternative world of games (2.7 billion games worldwide). In parallel, mobile app usage reached an all-time high in Q2 2020. Both are clear examples of momentum driven by the global lockdown measures.
But what impact is all this gaming having on our mental health?
WePC commissioned a survey to explore the effect gaming is having on our everyday state of mind. You might be surprised by the results!
For decades computer gaming has been portrayed as a negative hobby, responsible for poor mental health and anti-social behaviour. With the world forced into lockdown due to the global pandemic, the uptake of gaming across the world increased exponentially in 2020, as consumers deep dived into this ideal escapist hobby.
This rapid adoption of computer gaming during this period has raised the age-old media narrative which positions gaming as a negative pastime. At WePC, our passion for gaming means we wanted to explore the connection between mental health and gaming.
We know that this year has been challenging for many and with the interest in gaming growing, it was important for us to explore and understand some of the stigmas that are attached to our favorite past time!
So, we asked 1,024 people in the United States what they thought, to establish their views on how gaming may have affected their mental health.
Methodology & survey audience
The survey was conducted on 22nd September 2020 to 1,024 US-only respondents using the most recent US census for gender and age balancing.
Over 36% of respondents were over the age of 51.
Game Genre Split
Hours Spent Gaming Per Week
We asked how long people spend playing games per week. There are some interesting surprises that certainly counter the gamer stereotype!
Unsurprisingly 64% of the survey said they spend 1-10 hours per week gaming, with hardcore gamers only representing 8% (31 hours or more a week) of the respondents.
We are now going to take a look at how time spent gaming varies by age, gender, game genre, and device to see if there any interesting insights.
By Age Group
By Game Genre
We have seen that 64% of gamers in the survey are casual gamers (playing 1-10 hours per week) and the top three standout game genres for this segment are Puzzles (30%), First Person Shooters (9.1%), Sports (6.3%).
Game Genre and Age
There are big outliers with the Puzzle game genre being very popular 45-60+ (27.2% of respondents). As expected First Person Shooter (FPS) games are very popular with 18-29 (12.8%)
Comparing Casual Gamers (1-10 Hours) we can see that there is a gender bias with more females (31.9%) playing in a more casual way than males (27.9%).
There is a stark reversal when we focus on the hardcore gamers (31+ Hours) where 5.5% are males and 2.1% females, which is a sizeable 161.90% difference between the two.
Hardcore gamers (31+ hours per week)
It comes as no surprise that 18-29 lead the way in regards to hours spent playing games taking 42.5% of the share. The 60+ Age group was higher than expected coming in at 7.5% of the hardcore gamers.
The Casual Gamer
Casual gamers that fall within who play 1-10 hours gaming per week have been classed as casual gamers.
But why is casual gaming so popular?
According to a Casual Gaming playtime study by Google/Kantar TNS in 2018, 33% of casual gamers play games because they are easy to understand and 63% of casual gamers play games to pass time. This is supported by a strong correlation with the WePC survey where 47% of respondents said they found it was a distraction from daily life.
Mobile devices represent 72% of the casual gamers which correlates to the popularity of mobile gaming.
We can see that mobile gaming plays a big part for gamers with 45% of gamers.
The rise in popularity of mobile gaming has accelerated the growth in casual gaming with 72.3% of mobile users in the U.S. are mobile phone gamers (IAB Trends, 2016). There are now 2.2 billion mobile gamers worldwide. 203 million of them are in the US. 56% of them play more than 10+ times a week (Hubspot, 2020).
To give some context to the popularity of mobile gaming, a study from Statista in 2020 asked US gamers which platform they preferred for gaming, it was found that 61% used their Smartphone, 52% used a dedicated console, and 49% took part in PC gaming.
Taking the two largest segments there you can see there is 64% of casual mobile gamers in between the age of 30-60 years old. Seeing that 63% of casual gamers admit the play games to pass the time this expected to have a strong correlation as we can conclude that this segment is more likely to be spending a good portion of the day commuting to and from work.
Single or Multiplayer Games
Even though the online gaming market is predicted to hit a value of $79 billion by 2025 (Adroit, 2020) single-player gamers still make up 76.9% of the respondents in our survey. This correlates with popularity in casual gaming (64% of respondents play 1-10 hours per week) as single-player games are more accessible to pick up and put down when compared to multiplayer games.
While the popularity of casual mobile gaming could also influence the popularity of single-player games.
Why do people game?
It is interesting to see that 46% of the survey highlight they play games as they find it a distraction from daily pressures of life and 29% of respondents said that they play to keep mentally active. This means that 75% of the respondents use gaming to help their mental health.
Splitting the reasons people play games by age you can see some interesting insights emerging. Keeping mentally active is more important with 12% of the 60+ Age group saying this is the dominant reason they game.
Interestingly you can see a stark difference to the reasons why 26% of 18 to 44 age groups say they play as a distraction to the daily pressures of life. We can only surmise that this age group typically a variety of work, social, and family pressures to contend with, whereas 60+ typically tend to have less of these pressures and are looking to ensure they stay mentally and physically healthy.
The 45 to 60 age group scored high on distraction from daily life (14%) and keeping mentally active (10%). With the average life expectancy in the US of 76.1 years based on a study in 2018 we could propose people are more likely to look at their own mortality and therefore look to put a focus on maintaining a healthy mind and body.
Impact on Mental Health
Hours Per Week
We can see that casual gamer (1-10 Hours per week) doesn’t notice whether gaming has an impact on mental health (41%) but 18% of casual gamers stated it had a positive impact on mental health. Interestingly when you move out of the casual gamer segment you can see that people from either a positive or negative opinion on gaming’s impact on mental health. Across all segments, there is an overwhelming view that gaming has a far more positive impact than a negative one on mental health.
Based on respondents that answered either positively or negatively we can see that Puzzle Games (32.5%), First Person Shooter/FPS (26.2%), and Action-Adventure (7%) said they had a positive impact on mental health. We have already seen that mobile gaming is popular and in particular puzzles games being a very popular game genre for this mobile audience. FPS and Action-Adventure games can provide strong escapism which supports younger age groups that use gaming as a distraction to daily life.
Respondents Answer either positively or negatively
Looking at just the respondents that answered either positively or negatively there aren’t any significant outliers that the more you play the more negative impact has on mental health.
Contrary to popular belief, our survey found gaming has a positive impact on mental health for most people. However, some interesting factors arose from the answers when we took a deeper look.
More than a third of all respondents (37 %) say that gaming has a positive impact on their mental health.
Of the respondents that answered either positive or negative whether gaming had an impact on their mental health 82.6% said it had a positive impact
Only 7.82 % of gamers surveyed believe it negatively affects their mental health.
46% of respondents said they used gaming as a way to distract themselves from everyday life, with 29.2% saying it was a way to keep mentally active.
49% of those who said it had a positive impact on their mental health spent between one and 10 hours gaming per week.
Those who admitted to spending 41+ hours gaming per week were 69% more likely to experience negative impacts than those who gamed for 1-10 hours.
64% of Over 60s use gaming as a way of keeping mentally active
Solitaire came out on top of the list of games for over 60s with 19% admitting it’s their first choice of game
Mobile Gaming now has the biggest share of the global gaming market (48%) with the Mobile Gaming Industry $76.7Bn worldwide by 2020 (WePC / Statista).
And it seems that growth is partly due to the benefits people get from playing games via mobile.
In our survey, 83.5% (162 in total) of respondents who found that gaming had a positive effect on their mental health primarily played on mobile devices; with distraction (41%) & keeping mentally active (29%) being the primary motivators. Could this be due to the fact they are so easily accessible?
Mental Health and Age
Researchers have previously found evidence of lasting positive effects of video games on basic mental processes—such as perception, attention, memory, and decision-making, and it seems the older generation in the United States supports these claims.
64% of people over 60s used games to keep mentally active, with 89% stipulating they spent between one and ten hours a week gaming.
Solitaire came out on top of the list of games for over 50s with 19% admitting it’s their first choice of game.
The older generation prefers to game using some of the lesser advanced technology – 61% said they prefer to play games on Desktop, predominantly Windows.
39% of respondents over 50 admit to playing games on mobile devices.
This survey challenges the negative perceptions of gaming and hopes to remove some of the stigma’s gamers face. There’s a false perception that all forms of gaming are bad for mental health, but the reality is that it only becomes an issue when excessive in nature.
53% of respondents said they felt gaming has a negative perception in the media and society in general
Like with anything, if you over-indulge then you’re bound to experience negative side effects. Over-indulgence in gaming is usually a solution to an existing problem, not the cause of the problem itself.
Much of the positive mental health impact can be attributed to the genres of games consumers are engaging with. Games with skill such as puzzle games proved to be the most popular among those who had experienced a boost to their mental health, with gamers who preferred single-player games rather than multi-player gaming much more likely to report a positive influence on their state of mind.
Over the coming weeks we have a series of great interviews lined up, exploring our research finding and debunking some of the negative stigmas that gaming has.
Paul has been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. He spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written gaming content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Former champion shoot 'em-up legend