Conventional wisdom has it that too many cooks spoil the broth. But such judiciousness is not usually considered the basis for scientific pronouncements or international rulings on the need to limit the number of people in kitchens. But, when it comes to video games, conventional wisdom, not science, forms the basis for our thinking and even pronouncements from global authorities, according to Professor Andy Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute.

The World Health Organisation, no less, weighed into the debate over gaming, pronouncing that ‘Gaming disorder’ is an addictive behaviour and has classified gaming addiction as a disease. Yet, according to Professor Przybylski, there has been no scientific study which takes account of industry data and sentiment – until now. The professor has just completed a formal scientific study into the impact on players of video gaming – Video game play is positively correlated with well-being. And it has some surprising results, which suggest the old wives were wrong, yet again.

The study suggests that experiences of competence and social connection with others through play may contribute to people’s well-being. Indeed, those who derived enjoyment from playing were more likely to report experiencing positive well-being.

The study suggests that experiences of competence and social connection with others through play may contribute to people’s well-being. Indeed, those who derived enjoyment from playing were more likely to report experiencing positive well-being

According to the research, ‘We found a small positive relation between game time and well-being for players of both games. We did not find evidence that this relation was moderated by need satisfactions and motivations. Overall,  our  findings  suggest  that regulating video games,  on  the  basis  of time, might not  bring  the benefits  many  might  expect,  though  the correlational nature of the data limits that conclusion.’

So, stopping gamers from gaming is not necessarily a good thing. But the research is not a universal thumbs up, or perhaps down would be more correct, for a gaming analogy. Professor Przybylski emphasises the team looked at just two games and 3,000 adult players. But the study suggests there is a need to find out if the ‘moral panic’ over gaming is just that.

‘It’s fine to have an opinion about video games,’ says Professor Przybylski. ‘But, without research, you cannot know if this is a real thing or just your own ‘facts’. You can have your own opinion but you cannot have your own facts.’

It’s fine to have an opinion about video games…But, without research, you cannot know if this is a real thing or just your own ‘facts’. You can have your own opinion but you cannot have your own facts

Professor Andy Przybylski

Although games have been with us for the best part of four decades, the Oxford expert says this is the first study of its type, because it draws on data only available to the gaming industry.  According to the report, ‘Policymakers urgently  require reliable,  robust, and credible evidence that illuminates the influences video game may have on global mental health. However, the most important source of data, the objective behaviours of players, are not used in scientific research.’

Contrary to conventional wisdom, using this method, Professor Przybylski’s study shows that the players involved in his study believed they benefitted to some extent from enhanced mental well-being as a result of lengthy games sessions on two specific games, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Both are online ‘social’ games, where players engage with others at remote locations, and neither are in the 18+ ‘violent’ category.

 Working with ‘blind’ data of gaming time provided by the games manufacturers, Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America, Professor Przybylski’s team surveyed the game players and ‘explored the  association  between objective  game  time  and  well-being,  delivering  a  much-needed exploration of the relation between directly measured play behaviour and subjective mental health’.

 The study does not mean, he says, that all video games are ‘good for you’ or that ‘all players benefit’. But, he maintains, his research should be a first step in carrying out a proper scientific study of the impact of gaming on players and their effects over time; he is keen to see more studies follow.

What worries Professor Przybylski is that, earlier this year, in an extraordinary volte face, the WHO’s US ambassador, suggested that young men be given video games, to ensure they stay indoors and comply with the lockdown, thereby limiting the spread of COVID. Wouldn’t this be another leap of logic, to add to the last one? If gaming really is an addition, as the WHO claimed, wouldn’t that be like giving an alcoholic a bottle?

‘This was a serious suggestion….But it’s an unlabelled bottle,’ says Professor Przybylski. ‘We don’t know what’s in it.’

The RESTORE core team, in collaboration with REGENHEALTHSOLUTIONS and Mobile Idea S.R.L, have developed a gaming app to reach out to and inform a younger audience about Advanced Therapeutic Medicinal Products.

“Fragments of Life” is centred on the life of Ella, a young girl who is diagnosed with ALL (Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia), and her treatment journey from initial diagnosis and therapy, relapse and finally her treatment with CAR-T cell therapy. This is the backdrop of ten intense years of Ella’s life that the player is asked to reconstruct. It is an interactive experience that burrows deep into the human soul and leads the player to discover the joys, hopes, sorrows, first loves and friendships of young leukaemia patient Ella.

Set in the bedroom of the protagonist Ella, the game depicts her life through 60 hand-drawn photographs. Each photo is a fragment of her life and it will be up to the player to rearrange them in the order in which the events took place by investigating each photo through features such as zooming in on the photo, accessing additional information and answering Ella’s questions about her life.

Hans-Dieter Volk, RESTORE’s Coordinator, explains “For us as scientists, Advanced Therapies are fascinating both as biological entities and, in the way that they are starting to change the landscape of medical care. We expect them to have a major impact on individuals and society. We believe that communicating this excitement and fascination and enthusing others about Advanced Therapies is a task for RESTORE. With “Fragments of Life” we hope to educate a new generation of young people about Advanced Therapies and inspire them to find out more!”

The conception and development of Fragments of Life was entrusted to game designer Fabio Viola, already known for pioneering operations such as Father and Son (over 4 million downloads for the official videogame of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples) and A Life in Music (the first videogame in the world produced by a theatre, Regio Di Parma). Supporting him are the Mobile Idea srl team of illustrators, screenwriters, designers, programmers and musicians.

“It is a great responsibility to use the language of the videogame to explain a complex theme like leukaemia. Game designer Fabio Viola said, “We have conceived an interactive story in which the entertainment component is mixed with scientific knowledge to be accessible to a wide international audience”. The game focuses on describing and explaining different aspects of cancer and cancer treatment, in particular CAR T cell therapy. The player is interactively engaged through tasks and mini-games that guide the player through important moments in Ella’s life. CAR-T therapy is a prominent example of breakthroughs in medical care and highlights the future potential held by Advanced Therapies. We hope to educate a new generation of young people about ATMPs and maybe even inspire them to find out more!

Pier Maria Fornasari came up with the idea to create a game dedicated to Advanced Therapies and joined forces with RESTORE to develop and implement this idea.

“For me it is really about communication which is both fun and scientifically accurate. Especially in field such as Advanced Therapies, where some clinics leverage on the hype in the media to sell people non-approved, sometimes dangerous products. The best way to fight this phenomena, is to raise awareness and improve communication to the public. This game is an example of what communication to the public could look like. If this allows even one person to become better informed about the field and helps them to evaluate information critically and make more informed decisions, than the game has definitely achieved one of its goals”.

Fragments of life is now available to download for free from the Google Play or Apple App Store.

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