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Your Brain May Be Thanking You for All the ‘Zelda’ You Played

According to a recent study, boys who play video games regularly were less likely to display symptoms of depression three years later

Your dad told you all the time you spent playing Ocarina of Time would rot your brain. He might be right — but maybe you got some good out of it, too.

According to a recent study from University College London published in Psychological Medicine, boys who play video games almost daily at age 11 were less likely to display symptoms of depression three years later compared to those who played them only monthly. More than 11,000 were surveyed about their habits and happiness at age 11, and then surveyed again about depressive symptoms at age 14. Regularly playing video games reduced symptom prevalence by 24 percent. Specifically, though, this correlation was only found among “less active” boys. Playing video games didn’t improve the mental health odds of girls. 

In another study published this month, video game usage was similarly correlated with positive impacts on well-being. In this study, published in Royal Society Open Science, researchers sent surveys to players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. Players were asked about their well-being, motivations and need satisfaction during play, and their answers were studied alongside their gameplay data. As the researchers explain, despite concerns about gaming addiction and excessive screen time, they found a small connection between players’ general well-being and time spent on the game. 

Given that both of those games are relatively tame, with E for Everyone ratings, it’s unclear if those effects remain with games that are a bit more violent or have Mature or Teen ratings (the former study didn’t specify which games the 11-year-olds were playing). Still, the researchers suspect that video games might help with problem-solving and contain social, cooperative and engaging elements, all of which help with mental health. 

The main takeaway probably isn’t to give your kid unfettered access to whatever video games they choose for however long they like, but it might at least be some reassurance that regular gaming might actually be good for them. If you have a daughter, on the other hand, the Psychological Medicine study found a 13 percent increase in depressive symptoms among girls who used social media from age 11 onward. So, maybe keep an eye on that instead.