U.K. researchers say they have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent (at least among adults).
This topic has been debated for over two decades as the dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in real life.
Although learning by exposure concept — known as “priming” — is thought to lead to changes in behavior, previous studies have provided mixed conclusions.
For the new study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, University of York investigators performed a series of experiments with more than 3,000 participants. Their findings suggest that video game concepts do not prime players to behave in certain ways and that increasing the realism of violent video games does not necessarily increase aggression in game players.
In the new investigation, researchers increased the sample size (compared to previous studies) by expanding the number of participants in experiments. They then compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.
In one study, participants played a game where they had to either be a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Following the game, the players were shown various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or an animal.
Dr. David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, said, “If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorize the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.
“Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case. Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorizing vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower.”
In a separate but connected study published in the journal Entertainment Computing, the team investigated whether realism influenced the aggression of game players. Research in the past has suggested that the greater the realism of the game the more primed players are by violent concepts, leading to antisocial effects in the real world.
Dr Zendle said, “There are several experiments looking at graphic realism in video games, but they have returned mixed results. There are, however, other ways that violent games can be realistic, besides looking like the ‘real world’, such as the way characters behave for example.
“Our experiment looked at the use of ‘ragdoll physics’ in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life. Human characters are modeled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured.”
In this case, the experiment compared player reactions to two combat games — one that used ‘ragdoll physics’ to create realistic character behavior and one that did not — in an animated world that nevertheless looked real.
Following the game, the players were asked to complete word puzzles called “word fragment completion tasks”, where researchers expected more violent word associations would be chosen for those who played the game that employed more realistic behaviors.
They compared the results of this experiment with another test of game realism, where a single bespoke war game was modified to form two different games. In one of these games, enemy characters used realistic soldier behaviors, whilst in the other game they did not employ realistic soldier behavior.
Zendle said, “We found that the priming of violent concepts, as measured by how many violent concepts appeared in the word fragment completion task, was not detectable.
“There was no difference in priming between the game that employed ‘ragdoll physics’ and the game that didn’t, as well as no significant difference between the games that used ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ solider tactics.
“The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.”
Zendle explains that a follow-study study is now needed into other aspects of realism to see if this has the same result. “What happens when we consider the realism of by-standing characters in the game, for example, and the inclusion of extreme content, such as torture?”
Moreover, the theories were only tested on adults, so more work is needed to understand whether a different effect is evident in children players, Zendle said.
Source: University of York/ScienceDirect