The relationship between lockdowns and video game playtime: Multilevel Time-Series Analysis Using Massive-Scale Data Telemetry

David Zendle, Catherine Flick, Darel Halgarth, Nick Ballou, Joe Cutting, Anders Drachen

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BACKGROUND: COVID-19 led governments worldwide to enact a variety of containment and closure policies. Substantial attention has been directed toward the idea that these public health measures may have unanticipated negative side effects. One proposed effect relates to video games. There is a nascent evidence base suggesting that individuals played video games for longer and in a more disordered manner during lockdowns and school closures specifically. These increases are commonly framed as a potential health concern in relation to disordered gaming. However, the evidence base regarding changes in gaming during the COVID-19 pandemic is based on self-report and, thus, is susceptible to bias. Therefore, it is unclear what the true consequences of lockdowns were for gaming behavior worldwide.

OBJECTIVE: The primary objective of this study was to estimate whether any specific lockdown policy led to meaningful increases in the amount of time individuals spent playing video games.

METHODS: Rather than relying on self-report, we used >251 billion hours of raw gameplay telemetry data from 184 separate countries to assess the behavioral correlates of COVID-19-related policy decisions. A multilevel model estimated the impact of varying enforcement levels of 8 containment and closure policies on the amount of time that individual users spent in-game. Similar models estimated the impact of policy on overall playtime and the number of users within a country.

RESULTS: No lockdown policy can explain substantial variance in playtime per gamer. School closures were uniquely associated with meaningful increases in total playtime within a country (r 2=0.048). However, this was associated with increases in the number of unique individuals playing games (r 2=0.057) rather than increases in playtime per gamer (r 2<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Previous work using self-report data has suggested that important increases in heavy gaming may occur during pandemics because of containment and closure ("lockdown") procedures. This study contrasts with the previous evidence base and finds no evidence of such a relationship. It suggests that significant further work is needed before increases in disordered or heavy gaming are considered when planning public health policies for pandemic preparedness.

TidsskriftJournal of Medical Internet Research
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - 8. nov. 2023


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