Study Finds Video Game Competition, Not Violence, Can Lead To Aggression

A new study at Ontario’s Brock University has turned the old adage, “playing violent video games causes violence,” on its head. A paper published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Violence entitled, “The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence,” concluded that it was the competitive nature of a video game that led to aggressive behavior, and not the level of violence.

Researchers Paul Adachi and Teena Willoughby conducted two experiments. The first involved 42 test subjects playing either the violent action game Conan or the nonviolent racing game Fuel. Participants rated the games similar on competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action, so the only difference was the level of violence. Test subjects’ post-gaming aggressiveness was measured by which of four hot sauces they would serve to another participant – the hotter the sauce, the more aggressive they were. (Yes, hot sauce – remember, they’re Canadians, so giving the test subjects guns, bazookas or nukes is a wee bit frowned upon.)

The researchers found no difference in aggressiveness between the two groups of gamers. They write, “The results suggest that the violent content alone was not sufficient to produce elevations in aggressive behavior compared with a nonviolent video game.”

A second experiment was conducted with 60 other test subjects playing eitherMortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Left 4 Dead 2, Fuel, or Marble Blast Ultra. Needless to say, the first two titles were rated by participants as significantly more violent than the last two. But more importantly, Mortal Kombat and Fuel were rated as significantly more competitive than Left 4 Dead 2 and Marble Blast Ultra.

The result? The most competitive games led to the most aggressive behavior, not the most violent. As the researchers write, “We found that video game competitiveness elevated aggressive behavior in the short-term, regardless of the level of violent content, as the two most competitive video games, Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe (violent) and Fuel (nonviolent), produced the greatest levels of aggressive behavior. We also found that a moderately competitive game (Left 4 Dead 2), even when paired with a high level of violence, was not sufficient to elevate aggressive behavior compared with a less competitive, nonviolent game (Marble Blast Ultra).”

While the researchers admit more studies into the competitive/aggressive relationship are needed, the findings fly in the face of what politicians, lawyers, parent groups and any number of anti-gaming individuals have been crying about for years. But as gamers, we’ve known this all along; it doesn’t matter if it’s throwing a grenade in Call of Duty or a football in Madden, when the competition cranks up, so does our blood pressure. The level of violence pretty much tends to be a non-issue when you’re solely focused on defeating your opponent, and this study supports that experience.

So what about previous studies that did show a correlation between violent games and aggression? The researchers pointed out some fundamental flaws with this research, stating, “First, to date, no study has matched a violent and nonviolent video game on competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action simultaneously, and thus, the violent content has not been isolated. Consequently, it is unclear whether the violent content alone is responsible for elevated levels of aggression. Second, previous experimental studies have tended to use a measure of aggression that may also measure competitiveness, leading to questions about whether violent video games are related to aggression or competitiveness.”

But what about people like Anders Breivik, the monster responsible for the horrendous Norway massacre, who claimed he “trained” himself by playing Modern Warfare 2? Or the infamous Columbine killers who were also big fans of Doom? To blame the games and not the obvious mental illness these people suffered would be short-sighted at best.

And if you need any further proof that competition can lead to aggressive behavior, check out this shameful video of a youth football referee being attacked by coaches and players. Hmm, funny how there’s not a PS3 or Xbox to be found.

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