Hello everyone and welcome to Get Your Game On! My name is Zainabb and I have spent most of the last few weeks unwell with both disability-related sickness and general winter-related sickness. I’ve been watching playthroughs of scary games, checking in on Animal Crossing, started playing A Short Hike, and been swamped by multiple blankets at all times. Would recommend if this time of year is getting to you too. Sending love and solidarity to my disabled fam, and now here’s this week’s news.

New Study Suggests Playing Video Games Is Positive for Wellbeing and Mental Health

A new study from the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford has found that playing video games can have an overall positive effect on wellbeing and mental health. Researchers Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre, and Andrew K. Przybylski collaborated with Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America to study actual play behaviour on Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The researchers then compared time spent on these games with wellbeing measures, concluding that there is a small positive correlation between playing games and wellbeing.

This is a small study that has not been peer-reviewed, which means there is a need for further research before we can properly evaluate the links between wellbeing, mental health, and gaming time. However, many people who play video games regularly will be able to attest to their personal experiences of feeling an increase in wellbeing when playing video games; I’ve logged several hundred hours on Animal Crossing: New Horizons at this point and it’s definitely boosted my mood, eased feelings of isolation and loneliness (especially this year), and helped me to feel a sense of achievement.

The research team is hoping that this study will encourage further collaborations with video game companies to enable the transparent and ethical use of gaming data in future studies. The team would like to see more methodologically sound studies on wellbeing and video gaming which could better serve policymakers and quiet unfounded outrage in the media where dubious studies with extreme findings tend to receive the most coverage. It would also be interesting to see wellbeing research on a wider range of games but, for now, it’s an intriguing initial study.

Console Companies Continue to Perform Poorly on Human Rights, and Further Allegations of Abuse in the Industry

The annual Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) assessment has been released, providing data on human rights performance across several console companies, including Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. The report has found that Microsoft performed highest on commitment to and policies on human rights issues, although the company only scored 13 out of 26 on the core set of values outlined by the CHRB. This is an improvement on last year, when Microsoft scored 9 out of 26.

Nintendo scored the worst with 5.5 out of 26 while Sony scored 9.5. The assessment suggests that these companies are seriously lacking when it comes to committing to human rights, which is only the first step in taking action against human rights abuses. In fact, the video games industry as a whole routinely fails to work to actively prevent human rights abuses, regardless of public or policy-based commitments, as evidenced by regular accusations of abuse across the industry. Low scores on the CHRB assessment also point to a failure to take action against human rights abuses occurring at various stages in the production chain, which can include modern slavery and other abuses during the manufacture of consoles.

Unfortunately, the video games industry is not alone in this lack of commitment against human rights abuses, with other tech companies scoring poorly, such as Apple with 7 out of 26. The risk to human rights is increased when companies attempt to source components and manufacturing at the lowest possible price.

In highly related news, employees and staffers at MAGFest, an annual video games festival held in Washington, have released a statement outlining a number of abuses by MAGFest’s Board of Directors, including harassment, threats, discrimination, and inappropriate workplace practice. The MAGFest employees and staffers have compiled detailed documentation outlining these incidents, and are now requesting an immediate overhaul to both the Board and the ways in which the organisation operates. They are requesting safety and fairness for everyone in the workplace, and are asking the MAGFest community to stand with them in solidarity by publicly demanding accountability from the Board. Visit friendsofmag.com to see how you can support the team.

In other news…

HBO will be producing a television adaptation of The Last of Us, with Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann as writers and executive producers. Mazin has previously written the Chernobyl mini-series for HBO whilst Neil Druckmann worked on The Last of Us. Naughty Dog and Sony will also be assisting with the development, so it’s likely that other members of the game’s creative team will be involved in producing the show.

Cyberpunk 2077 will have a “streamer mode” that disables copyrighted music, enabling easier monetisation for streamers and YouTubers. Unfortunately, CD Projekt Red continues to publish transphobic and racist content and recently lied to the press about expecting crunch from its employees, so I won’t be playing the game, but it’s an interesting concept that could be picked up by other developers keen to support streamers.

Apple has announced that they will halve their App Store commissions for developers that make up to $1 million a year, bringing their commission from 30% to 15% for these devs. The new programme will begin on January 1st and may be in reaction to Apple’s ongoing legal battle with Epic Games over App Store commission rates.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has released its winter update which, alongside new reactions (like sitting down!) and holiday events, finally introduces a bunch of diverse hair options for player characters. Taniesha Bracken-Hucks has been petitioning for several months for inclusive hairstyles, including Afro-textured styles, so that Black players can better express themselves in the game.

In addition to this much-needed improvement, the game now also allows save files to be transferred. Check out all the new features in the ad below:

Dungeons & Dragons has a new supplement called Tasha’s Cauldron, which was expected to implement key changes to the game’s handling of race, following complaints made by fans and employees at publisher Wizards of the Coast earlier this year. Unfortunately, the new book only seems to encourage players to leave out race-based character differences or construct homebrew rules to circumvent the game’s racial system, which players of colour have been doing for years (when not simply avoiding the game). So basically, Wizards of the Coast have done nothing to improve their game’s racism so far.

And if you have been looking to gift someone an art commission…

Artists in the Philippines have been opening up commissions or diverting their usual sales to raise relief funds in response to the destruction of Typhoon Ulysses. Here are a few who are still doing so as of this week.

More can be found through the hashtags #artPH and #ArtForACause.