Study: Incompetence – not violence – leads to aggression

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Hammer Tiem

We keep hearing of studies by academics telling us that the violence inherent in the videogames we play have led to a generation of very angry, very aggressive people. We level-headed gamers, of course, know otherwise. A new study from the Oxford Internet Institute looks to redress the popular opinion – and has approached the problem in a rather interesting manner.

Where most studies of this ilk pit something overtly violent, such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto against something without wanton death like Tetris, and then compare the results this study used modified and unmodified versions of Half-Life 2. Participants were given either version, and over a series of six separate studies were monitored for aggression.

The modified Half-Life 2 did away with death, having players instead mark targets who would vanish out of thin air. Participants playing the regular version of Half-Life 2 could shoot people as they pleased. Interestingly, some were given a tutorial before play, while others went in blind.

Researchers found that most aggression was found in those who had no clue what the heck they were doing.

“We focused on the motives of people who play electronic games and found players have a psychological need to come out on top when playing,” said Oxford Internet Institute’s Dr Przybylski.

“If players feel thwarted by the controls or the design of the game, they can wind up feeling aggressive.

“This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material.

Much more research, they say, is necessary.

“Players of games without any violent content were still feeling pretty aggressive if they hadn’t been able to master the controls or progress through the levels at the end of the session.”

The study’s co-author Prof Richard Ryan, from the University of Rochester, said:

“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.

“If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this not the violent content that seems to drive feelings of aggression.”

Like most of these studies, it doesn’t really tell us much – but it’s nice to see different, more nuanced methods and ways of tacking the question of violence’s measure in videogames.

“There’s a need for researchers who are interested in these questions not just to pull two video games off the shelf from the high street,” said Przybylski.

“We need to have a more sophisticated approach so we’re all reading from the same experimental methods.”

Last Updated: April 8, 2014

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