Understanding whether lockdowns lead to increases in the heaviness of gaming using massive-scale data telemetry: An analysis of 251 billion hours of playtime


Objectives: The primary objective of this study is to determine whether any specific lockdown policy led to meaningful increases in the amount of time that individuals spent playing video games COVID-19 has led governments across the world to enact a variety of containment and closure (‘lockdown’) policies. Significant attention has been directed towards the idea that these public health measures may have unanticipated negative side-effects. A nascent evidence base suggests that individuals played video games for longer during lockdowns and school closures in specific. This increase in playtime per gamer is linked to the potential for lockdowns to induce gaming disorder. However, the evidence base regarding lockdowns and disordered gaming is based on self-report and is susceptible to bias. It is therefore unclear what the true consequences of lockdowns were for gaming behaviour across the world – disordered or otherwise. Design: This is a longitudinal study, utilising 2 years worth of data. Rather than rely on self-report, we analyse approximately 251 billion hours of raw gameplay telemetry data from 184 separate countries to assess the behavioural correlates of COVID-related policy decisions. A multilevel model estimated the impact of eight containment and closure policies on the amount of time that individual users spend in-game. Similar models estimate the impact of policy on overall playtime and number of users within a country. Results: Whilst school closures are associated with increases in both playtime (r2=0.048, 95%CI: 0.042 – 0.056, p<0.001) and the number of unique individuals playing games (r2=0.057, 95%CI: 0.050 – 0.065, p<0.001), no lockdown policy can explain substantial variance in playtime per gamer. Conclusions: Lockdown policies were not associated with important increases in playtime per user. While there were significant concerns about the public health implications of increased video game playtime during lockdowns, unbiased telemetry data fails to corroborate these concerns.