[Article first published as Aggresive Behavior and Videogames - More Darwin than Bloody Violence? on Blogcritics.]
The effect videogames have on the human mind has been thoroughly and widely argued for years. And that argument rests solely on one seemingly central focus: violence.
Countless studies have been done examining a myriad of combinations – children and violent games, prolonged exposure to violent games, long term psychological effects, aggressive behavior, and the list goes on and on indefinitely. The findings have of course been varied, and in my lay opinion, there’s too many variables involved to get a 100% accurate read on the results. I’m not going to venture into that here, as (I) I’m not a trained psychologist and (II) it would lengthen this article to somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 words – too much for both me to write and you to read.
I just saw a study on this topic though that piqued my interest – it seemed to be a slight twist on the common “games are violent” story. In addition to the violence aspect, Paul J.C. Adachi, a Ph.D. candidate at Brock University in Canada added a potentially important modifier. The experiments focused on competition in games, and whether or not it was another factor to aggressive behavior in players. It involved hot sauce too, which I’m all about.
Using competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action as indicators, Adachi ran multiple experiments and observed the resulting behavior. The method makes sense – he used Fuel, Conan, Left 4 Dead 2, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe and Marble Blast Ultra as his field of games. It looks simple enough. The games on this list it do seem to cover his three categories in varying degrees. His method on observing behavior and aggression wasn’t as straightforward, but outright genius. In each experiment, players were asked to prepare a hot sauce sample for a “hot sauce taster” who specifically does not like spicy food using mild to very hot sauces after playing. It’s fair enough to say that heat level equals aggression.
In the test run (42 college students: 25 men, 17 women) using only Fuel and Conan, Adachi observed that there was no real difference in hot sauce intensity between those who played one game versus the other. By this he concluded that videogame violence alone wasn’t enough to increase aggressive behavior. The second test (60 college students: 32 men, 28 women) is where the meat of the results come from. The gamer guinea pigs that played games that were highly competitive like Fuel and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe on average made much hotter hot sauce for their testers than players subjected to Left 4 Dead 2 and Marble Blast Ultra. I’d call that pretty aggressive. According to Adachi, based on these observations, “These findings suggest that the level of competitiveness in video games is an important factor in the relation between video games and aggressive behavior, with highly competitive games leading to greater elevations in aggression than less competitive games.” I highly recommend you check out the full study at the American Psychological Association’s website. It’s got all sorts of statistical models and charts and all that happy stuff for those who really want an in-depth read.
So what’s the full story then? Well, think about the last time you saw a report of a violent crime on your local news. Did you become aggressive watching the report? If I show you a screenshot of the new Mortal Kombat would you become enraged? For me the answer is no. This study seems to line up at least with my own observation and personal experiences. Violence has never made me (and most people i know) more aggressive on its own – it’s always been the desire to win. In multiplayer environments that desire to win goes up tenfold. As does the degree of trash talk and anger. If any of you have taken part in any kind of competitive events then I would venture that you share that experience. Whether it’s PvP play in World of Warcraft, the final table at the World Series of Poker or a title fight in the UFC, when either victory or defeat is close a competitor is going to amp it up.
Now I’m playing through Bayonetta again, and I can sit back on my couch shooting and slicing up enemies (through attacks called torture moves no less) on most enemies and my only reaction is “Wow that was fairly simple.” It’s when the odds seem stacked and my health bar starts approaching zero that my frustration starts to rise. I can put the controller down and walk away, but there’s always going to be that handful of people that take it too far. If you think that’s a bad example then here’s another: I can get just as riled up when I see my king’s inevitable demise in a game of chess. We’re wired to want victory. A simple will to win and survival of the fittest.