Do games cause aggression? Why research on this topic is meaningless (Topic)

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Do games cause aggression? Why research on this topic is meaningless


"Are games aggressive?" Is a perennial question that comes up from time to time in the industry. Populists, politicians, church leaders around the world are very fond of throwing stones at gamers and say that games are aggressive and should be banned. In turn, supporters of the gaming industry pierce their heads with facepalms when they hear such theses. According to Jason Schreyer, editor of Kotaku, there has been no scientific research to date that satisfies the view that games create violence.

Last week, Polygon posted the news about the publication of a new scientific study from the American Psychological Association [AARP], where they concluded that there is a definite link between aggression and violent video games.

"Research shows a consistent link between violent video games and increased aggression, aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, and declines in prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity to aggression," the study said.


It's hard to disagree with the AARP, because we know that they are not some kind of no-name organization that unexpectedly released "revelations about games". However, if you look closely at the study itself, a number of questions arise.

So, the text published by the association is not a new study, but just a general overview of research on this topic made in the period from 2013 to 2015. In addition to analyzing several publications in scientific journals in it, they also examined four meta-analyzes in which they tried to identify patterns between aggressive behavior and violent games. The Kotaku editor claims there are errors in all of these works and gives several arguments.

How is aggression measured?

An outside observer may wonder - how can you tell if one person is more aggressive than another? How is an emotional state such as aggression generally measured? Well, the following tests were used in research papers:

  • Short story test - a person is given a blank describing a short situation [“Driver crashes into Bob's car. He gets out of the car and walks up to the driver ”] and asked to continue.
  • Noise test. The subject is asked to press a button, which will activate a very unpleasant noise that will direct him to another subject. After that, it is assessed how much discomfort it causes and with what intensity.
  • Hot sauce test - one subject is asked to give the other a portion of hot sauce and is scored based on how much sauce he gave and how hot it was.

Other tests simply consist of giving the subjects questionnaires asking them to tell them if they feel more aggressive after the game or not. Most likely, such tests make you raise quit questioningly. Aggression is an ambiguous psychological state, if I get angry for a few seconds at a game or on a TV show - am I aggressive because of this? This can only be measured in arbitrary ways.

No one looks at short-term and long-term effects

Another problem with all of these studies is that they measure the aggression of gamers immediately after a game session. Even if you think that tests are a good way to measure the level of aggressiveness, in practice it turns out differently. If you are a parent, you will be concerned about how play can affect your child in the long run. And just in the latest AARP report, there is no work that would consider this problem for a long period of time.


“However, the meta-analyzes we have looked at include little or no research into the long-term effects of games on aggression. They also do not cover various time points that could tell whether video games with heavy violence develop aggressiveness over time. ”

Thus, the AARP's conclusion that there is a link between aggression and video games can be misleading. And in fact, they concluded there was a connection between gaming and short-term anger.

No one thinks about rivalry


Many of the studies reviewed by the AARP in their report focus on a wide range of violent titles such as Mortal Kombat or GTA. Researchers divide the subjects into two groups: one plays the same Mortal Kombat and GTA, and the other in harmless projects. But no one takes into account the important factor of competition between players.


Back in 2013, scientists from Brock University published a voluminous long-term study [involving 1,492 teenagers over four years] that tested the impact of violent competitive and violent non-competitive as well as non-violent non-competitive games. They found that rivalry affects the human brain much more.

“We found that after two hours of play a day on a project where there was competition with other players, subjects increased their aggressiveness over time,” said one of the study's authors Brock Paul Adachi to Schreier. without violence and without rivalry do not cause such a thing. This leads us to believe that games do not in any way affect the general level of a person's aggression, which cannot be said about the constant rivalry that causes such things. ”

This makes sense, right? What will annoy you more, dying from a crowd of aliens in the brutal Gears Of War or losing to your brother in nonviolent Mario Kart, who will then mock you for half a day, reminding you that he is better?


Herr Schreyer ends as follows:

“All these questions and the subjectivity of scientific research, which draw ambiguous conclusions and are misrepresented, increasingly convince me to avoid such reports and press releases. There just isn't enough research or the right methodology right now to arrive at the right scientific conclusions. The next time you read materials on the connection between aggression and video games, keep it in mind.

The Topic of Article: Do games cause aggression? Why research on this topic is meaningless.
Author: Jake Pinkman