For a number of years, the effects of video game violence have been a topic of concern for the public. The media, however, has constantly questioned whether playing violent video games can cause aggressive or violent behavior. It is this question that has pushed parental advocacy groups, and many other opponents into the spotlight. With so many enemies, it is easy for a studio to be misrepresented, even when the media forgets that these aggression studies have been rebutted time and time again.
However, relief may be found due to a new study from the University of Oxford with help from the University of Rochester in the United States which suggests that aggression among video game players is caused by not by violent, but frustrating gameplay mechanics. When carrying out a range of tests, researchers found more aggression among players when the games played had been modified to have erroneous controls, leading to feelings of inadequacy or incompetence.
The six studies and their outcomes, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, dealt with testing the capabilities of gamers who had not experienced a tutorial, and attempting to master counter-intuitive controls throughout the session. One of the studies dealt with Half-Life 2, Valve’s admittedly graphic – but genre-defining and groundbreaking – shooter. The study was performed with two variations on the game: one with violence intact, and the other with it removed (replacing it with a ‘tag’ system in which the enemies evaporate).
The results showed that the players who had lacked the tutorial experienced feelings of incompetence, and showcased more aggressive behavior, even while the violent content itself had been entirely removed. Many find this nuanced approach to studying the effects of video games encouraging, rather than applying a blanket approach to the medium. One such supporter, co-author of the study Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester explained that while further research is needed, the findings can’t be disputed:
“The study is not saying that violent content doesn’t affect gamers, but our research suggests that people are not drawn to playing violent games in order to feel aggressive… Rather, the aggression stems from feeling not in control or incompetent while playing.”
Dr. Andrew Przybylski of Oxford also stated that the study focused on the motives behind the playing of video games, and found a psychological desire to overcome the obstacles within a game. If the player is left incompetent due to the controls or design of the game, it can cause aggression:
“This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material.”
While this study is merely the most recent in a long line of experiments proving that video games are capable of causing aggression among players, the complexities of experience and reaction that rest below the surface of gameplay have not largely been examined. However, how does this study fit with other cases in which there was found to be no connection between video games and violence whatsoever? It is because of these discrepancies that Dr. Przybylski and his team have called for more sophisticated research into violent gaming.
To most gamers, this may appear to be common sense; a game is meant to be enjoyed, understood and, most importantly, played. If that element is found to be unfair and frustrating rather than challenging, rage is the only logical outcome. And since rage is rage no matter the cause, anger can transfer over to real-life situations quite easily. Dark Souls II can be difficult, but not unfairly so, and not due to broken or inept controls. As for games released in alpha states – like DayZ – the chance for glitches or flawed mechanics causing frustration is far higher.
While there’s no question that the video game medium is far more interactive than film or television, the most promising way for the overall debate to become clearer, unfortunately, would require all taking part to experience it themselves. However, as Dr. Przybylski had concluded in a different study, many who are quick to believe the presumed negative effects of video games have never actually played them. Shaky ground on which to build a case, especially since a recent UK survey found that more and more demographics are starting to disagree with the idea that violent video games can cause real-world aggression.
Can this be attributed to the fact that more people are actually playing video games, attempting to truly acknowledge the purpose of it? Familiarity would certainly separate the valid arguments from the unfounded, so perhaps more gamers is better for the debate as well. If this approach was to be adopted, rather than accepting what the media says about a certain topic, the masses might be better informed about things that, inevitably, may barely affect them at all.
What do you think? Does this study’s result confirm your own thoughts about gaming, or challenge them? Should more in-depth research be done on how violent video games affect players? Let us know in the comments below!