Luigi might look perpetually pissed-off in Mario Kart 8 but the player controlling him isn't. A new study suggests that video games can play an effective role in reducing stress.
Researchers explored whether playing Mario Kart on Wii could improve the player's mood. More specifically, they investigated whether success within the game satisfied "the need for competence and autonomy" and in turn made the player happier.
The study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, is based on self-determination theory. This theory states that people have to satisfy three needs for their well-being. They have to feel competence (be skilled at a task), autonomy (be in control of one's life) and relatedness (be connected to others). The importance of one need or another will vary from situation to situation but all three are still important.
The researchers began their experiment by stressing their subjects out. They had each take a paced auditory serial-addition task, or PASAT. The PASAT requires you to listen to a series of numbers and then add the newest digit to the previous one. This task was originally designed to test for brain damage but it's apparently good at pissing people off, too. The researchers used the PASAT to get their subjects up to a baseline level of anger and frustration.
Subjects in the study took the PASAT until they failed. After that, they took a mood questionnaire to confirm that, yes, they hate math and probably hate the researchers who made them do that math.
Then it was Mario Kart time. The subjects played two races against A.I. opponents. They then filled out another mood questionnaire after their gaming session was over to see whether their emotions had changed.
According to GFR, all of the 48 subjects reported happiness after playing Mario Kart. However, the extent that the game reduced the stress brought by the PASAT depending on their success in the game. The better they performed in their races, the more their mood improved.
This study seems to prove what many of us already knew: games can be a great way to unwind. If you had a rough day at work, a session of Mario Kart 8 is a good idea. However, the game's not going to be as effective at raising your spirits if you're getting your ass kicked. You might want to warm up on 50cc first or you'll stayed stressed out.
The study is limited to single-player so there are still unanswered questions. It's unclear how other players could help or hinder the stress reduction. On the one hand, a game of Mario Kart with friends would satisfy the need for relatedness mentioned earlier. However, if those friends are dominating you, would the stress from losing offset the benefits from that social activity? Also, what if you're playing with anonymous people online?
There's still a lot of research to be done. Still, the point of this study stands: video games can be a great way to manage your mood.