PowerWash Simulator Research Edition Key Art
PowerWash Simulator Research Edition Key Art
PowerWash Simulator Research Edition Key Art | Courtesy of Futurlab

Unveiling the Power of Play: FuturLab and Oxford University Join Forces on Groundbreaking Study

A Unique Open Data Resource is Now Available for Exploring Video Gaming's Impact on Player Well-Being

What if our beloved video games held keys to our well-being? In a first-of-its-kind study, game developer FuturLab, in collaboration with the University of Oxford and Tilburg University, are tackling this question, and the initial findings are promising.

Since August 2022, these pioneering researchers have been diligently collecting data from players of a unique research version of PowerWash Simulator, the highly successful video game developed by FuturLab. This research has now resulted in the creation of a comprehensive open online data resource—the world’s largest of its kind—exploring the effects of video game play on the well-being of players.

First author, Dr Matti Vuorre, Assistant Professor, Tilburg University explains: “Despite widespread worries about the impacts of games on the mental health and wellbeing of players, there is little empirical evidence to support or refute these concerns. We set out to address those concerns by collaborating with FuturLab to collect real-time in-play data about how people feel when they are gaming, and not sometime after as is usually done in video game research. Together we have created a fully transparent online resource of gaming data, which as far as we are aware is the largest repository of its kind in the world.” 

Co-author and project lead Professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said: “Although extensively studied, the level of understanding required to address sensationalist headlines and advise policy is lacking, at least partly because much of the science has relied on artificial settings and limited self-report data.  

“In our new study, we set out to develop a framework of best practices for researchers, psychologists and data scientists involved in the study of gaming and its impact on mental health and wellbeing.  Our data set is published as an open resource to help others in the field go further and deeper in the pursuit of understanding more about the psychological state of gamers. This study is a real game changer that opens the black box of gaming for all.” 

The team’s next move is to conduct detailed statistical analyses of the PowerWash dataset and to publish their findings in the coming months as part of their ongoing collaboration with FuturLab. 

James Butlin, co-author and Senior Programmer at FuturLab Ltd said: “From a game developer’s perspective, the opportunity to scientifically measure the level of satisfaction, competency, and general well-being your players feel while playing your game is invaluable – and incredibly exciting!  

“I spoke in detail about some of the challenges we faced while implementing the study into PowerWash Simulator during my talk at GDC 2023. We are very proud of our work on the study and hope to inspire others to get involved in similar collaborative research.” 

Over 11,000 video game enthusiasts from 39 countries worldwide have participated in the study, opting in to have their gameplay data analysed. The PowerWash Simulator, a game that centres around the gratifying task of power washing various objects and locations in the fictional town of Muckingham, served as an ideal platform for this exploration. This enjoyable simulation game allowed researchers to tap into players’ psychological experiences and states of mind during play, through an in-game messaging and response system.

The complete analysis of the study is yet to be published and peer-reviewed, but the anticipation is palpable in academic and gaming communities alike. The data, now fully accessible to all as an open resource, is expected to shed new light on how our favourite pastime affects our psychological well-being.

This research was financially backed by the Huo Family Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/W012626/1). Furthermore, technical support was generously provided by James Butlin, an employee of FuturLab.

So, what’s next? The gaming and scientific communities eagerly await the in-depth findings that will emerge in the coming months. These are anticipated to provide deeper insight into the intriguing relationship between video game play and players’ well-being.

If you’d like to read the full study you can find it here titled “An intensive longitudinal dataset of video game play, well-being, and motivations: Case study of PowerWash Simulator” by Matti Vuorre, Kristoffer Magnusson, Niklas Johannes, James Butlin and Andrew K Przybylski.

Find out more about the collaboration with FuturLab at OII | Researchers at Oxford Internet Institute collaborate with Game Developer FuturLab to study mental health of players.

Until then, why not join the conversation? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or in the Gaming.Buzz Community Discord. How does gaming impact your well-being? Do you think research like this is important for the future of video games? We’d love to hear from you!

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