Comment »Posted on Friday 23 January 2009 at 12:40 pm by Jacob Aron
In Psychology

Video game players are not motivated by violence, according to a new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Rather, gamers enjoy mastering a challenging situation, rather than shooting everything that moves.

The researchers found that for many players, gory graphics actually reduced their enjoyment of a game, leading them to suggest that game developers should be aware that “blood does not help the bottom line”. Lead author of the study, graduate student Andrew Przybylski assessed the findings:

“For the vast majority of players, even those who regularly play and enjoy violent games, violence was not a plus,

“Violent content was only preferred by a small subgroup of people that generally report being more aggressive,”

Part of the study involved surveys of 2,670 regular gamers, who rated their favourite games based on statements like When moving through the game world, I feel as if I am actually there” and “I would buy a sequel to this game. Unsurprisingly, given the stereotypical gamer image, 89% of participants were male and between 18 and 39 years of old.

In addition, four experimental studies with more than 300 undergraduate participants examined the effects of violence by asking players to try two versions of a game; one with low-violence, the other with blood and guts. The link above shows two example videos of the games played, in this case a modification of the fantastic Half Life 2. In the high-violence version, players mow down the enemy with a shotgun, whilst the more serene version tags and teleports the target back to base.

At least, that’s what the researchers say – but from watching the video I see that the gun being used in the low-violence version is lifted straight from Half Life 2, and within the fiction of that game enemies are disintegrated into nothingness – which I personally find a bit more disturbing! I doubt this had any effect on the study, however.

I play a lot of games, of both a violent and non-violent nature, and I’d certainly agree with the result of this research. When I take someone out with a sniper rifle in Call of Duty 4, the enjoyment I gain is not due to the blood spurting out of their virtual head, but rather the knowledge that on the other side of the screen, somewhere out in the internet, someone is cursing my name for outwitting them. That, and who doesn’t love shouting “Headshot!”?

Having said that, maybe I should keep my gaming in check after research into the relationships of gamers with their friends and family reveals negative findings – much to the disappointment of undergraduate co-author Alex Jensen, who was hoping to convince his family to buy a Wii. Increased time gaming was found to be connected with the falling quality of relationships.

“It may be that young adults remove themselves from important social settings to play video games, or that people who already struggle with relationships are trying to find other ways to spend their time,” said Laura Walker, Jenson’s faculty mentor.

“My guess is that it’s some of both and becomes circular.”

In other words, people play games to escape from tough social situations, and the time gaming further separates them from those around them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Cambridge to visit my girlfriend – but maybe I’ll just boot up the Xbox first…

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