Study: Aggression From Video Games ‘Linked to Incompetence,’ Not Content

Published 1 year ago by , Updated April 14th, 2014 at 12:54 pm,

Study Aggression From Incompetence

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).

Half Life 3 RPG Open World 2013

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.

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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!


Source: BBC

TAGS: Half-Life 2

  • COREY_1993

    dark sould 2 is full of BS that can make people upset… it maybe hard how there are so many unfair things in that game

    • Mike Pitcher

      If you think any of the Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls games are “unfair” then they arent for you. If you die in that game, it’s your own fault. Not the games. It’s because of your lack of caution. Not the games “cheap” nature.

      • Sonicblast19

        The game is actually cheap,very cheap.A fair game can be called Ninja Gaiden where when you die it’s because you have slow reflexes,unlike Dark Souls which already handicaps the player with stiff movement.

        • Holodeck

          If someone can get through Dark Souls II in under two hours at soul level 1, no shield, and without dying, I think we can say that the game is difficult without being unfair. You can beat this game and its (very similar) predecessors if you exercise patience and careful observation. You need adapt in order to overcome. It’s as simple as that.

  • bio

    This study actually makes alot of sense. Seeing how one time as a kid I got so frustrated with beating a level in a game… I Thrown my self threw a wall.

    • bio

      The whole in my basement’s wall is still there to this day.

      • bio


        • Alky

          So “gaming” is the reason why u keep a hole in yer basement wall? Gotta come up with something I suppose!

  • DarthMalnu

    This is what I was getting at in the last video game violence article. Most aggression from games comes from frustration and feelings of inadequacy. It’s even more prevalent in competitive games where you can’t blame your failures on game mechanics. If you ask me, this kind of aggression is common in many situations in life and that video games are no more responsible for aggression than Ikea is. It is up to the individual (or parent) to learn what situations cause these feelings and either avoid them or strive to handle the frustration better. By the third smashed mouse, we learned not to let my father near computers, but we don’t blame the computer.

    • DarthMalnu

      So let’s finally put the topic to rest. Video games DO NOT turn people into violent serial killers… now that it’s settled, I’m going back to playing Harvester.

      • jwalka

        that games f***ed 😛

  • Mark

    This reminds of how frustrating it was in Halo Reach to air assassinate the damn Elite no matter how many different ways I would do it (and often succeed) but never actually earn the achievement because the game didnt register the f***ing animation as completion. I was ready to break the game.

    • Iggy777

      Took me an hour

  • ex-sell69

    Doctors with way too much time on their hands, find out that people who push on a door that clearly reads “pull” are just as likely to show signs of aggression as gamers… A better question should be: How is this even a profession? And what reason are these people getting payed for? For having stupid sounding names?!

  • Suspicious Gamer

    Since the dawn of man there will always be violent people. It is ALWAYS the individual’s choice to do commit violence. It is human nature.

  • phillyboyRULEZ

    This makes so much sense. I had never really thought of it that way. I’ve always thought that violence didn’t cause the problem. Like everyone’s example of CoD. People get so angry because of the awful mechanics and it can be very frustrating. Or like the times in a games story where you might get stuck at a really bad save spot or cannot get passed a level. It seems that people just ignore all possibilities other than the violence. And for the people who think it is the problem, here’s a tip… DON’T PLAY THEM!!