Neat Science Thursday – Videogames and violence

News flash, a new study was just released on PLOS ONE examining the effects of violent video games on levels of aggression. Now before you freak out about whether or not more arbitrary ratings should be used to label video games, you should actually read the research article first (it’s open-access and really interesting, so enjoy!)

I know you don’t play these RPGs in first person to look at the pretty landscape!

Then be sure that you don’t generalize these findings to all video games just yet. This study was only comparing a First Person Shooter (Call of Duty Modern Warfare) with a puzzle-platform game (little big planet 2) rather than a ‘neutral’ first person game because the authors were unable to identify such a game. Forget all you role playing gamers who play in first person perspective…I’m sure you only play to kill monsters and don’t care for the long and intricate narrative anyway. I’m sure you ignore all those NPC requests for help, because neutral first person perspective games just aren’t popular. Eat that Elderscrolls, you give the player too many options! Forget you, you miscellaneous first person golf games—you’re too boring! There are just no good neutral first person games to compare against a first person shooter. Don’t worry, the researchers were aware of this issue, and will be sure to expand on this study once they identify a non-violent first person game.

It’s a bit tricky to define violence, so the most clear and obvious case of it was used for this study. This explains why more ambiguous games where killing monsters is optional is not used as a comparison. Eg- My bro once spent hours in a 1st person RPG just jumping in order to increase his acrobatic skill.

Because playing a golf video game is just as dull as playing a real life golf game.

The researchers did have a very clever method for studying aggression. Not sure it’s an accurate measure of aggression, but it is definitely very clever.

The researchers used the General Aggression Model (GAM) for this study (this is not where the cleverness comes in). “A widely accepted model for understanding media effects, the GAM posits that cognition, affect and arousal mediate an individual’s perception of a situation. Thus, in the short-term a violent video game may temporarily increase aggression through the activation of one or more of these domains. In the long-term aggressive scripts can develop and become more readily available.”

Here’s the clever part: To measure the alterations in aggression (or arousal) the researchers measured the amount of chili sauce to which the player was willing to subject a non-existent pepper-sensitive taste-tester. The more aggressive player would be more willing to subject a pepper-sensitive person to more pain. Indeed, the researchers found that subjects that played the first person shooter put more chili sauce than subjects that played the puzzle-platform game. Furthermore, subjects that played the first person shooter online (in a more competitive environment) used even more chili sauce than subjects that played the FPS offline.

The researchers did take some measures of affect (emotional state of the players), but didn’t see a difference thus didn’t pursue the matter further. It’s unclear if the FPS and the puzzle-platform game induced different levels of arousal and if levels of arousal could be distinguished from aggression in the chili sauce test. Would be interesting to see how someone playing a Kinect running game would compare in this test. Just a little food for thought.