Video Games Do Cause Aggression… If They Suck Out Loud

from the garbage-in-garbage-out dept

I think I’ve come to the realization that the debate over whether violent video games cause real-life violence is probably never going to end. Centuries from now, some new race of alien beings will be picking over humanity’s remains like some kind of alien-Indiana Jones and think to themselves, “What the hell is this bullshit?” They’ll look over fossilized papers about crazy video game hardliners who were running guns on the side, or studies that stated that violent games will breed violent children despite the relative lack of violent children present. Oh, the laughs they will have at our expense.

But, it turns out, there is a way you can cause aggression in children through games. You just have to make really crappy games.

Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute and the University of Rochester took Half-Life 2, one of the most satisfyingly intuitive games ever made (in my opinion), and modified it, turning it into a game of tag rather than a first person shooter. Some users were given a tutorial, and others were simply thrown into the game. Those that did not get the tutorial were much more aggressive after playing. Andrew Przybylski from the Oxford Internet Institute:

“This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material. Players of games without any violent content were still feeling pretty aggressive if they hadn’t been able to master the controls or progress through the levels at the end of the session.”

So, all you have to do to make folks aggressive with a game is make it very difficult, counter-intuitive, and annoying. You know, like Battle Toads, Myst, or any game produced by Derek Smart. This explains why I used to go over to a friend’s house, find him playing Bulls Vs. Blazers on his Sega, and would know for sure that the gaming session would eventually end with him ripping the cartridge out of the machine and chucking it at a wall (true story).

The real question is: if we were going to tax violent games because we thought that’s what made some kids violent, are we similarly going to tax shitty games for the same reason? It would make just as much sense, which is to say none, but it might be a good buttress against the ruination of the next ending to a Mass Effect game, amirite?

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Comments on “Video Games Do Cause Aggression… If They Suck Out Loud”

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Jernau (profile) says:


I read a similar article elsewhere yesterday, and as someone that’s been playing all kinds of games for almost 40 years (and who *hated* the ‘violent games make kids violent’ BS), I have to say it’s intuitively correct –

Badly designed games piss me off.
Well designed games are at least cathartic and at best make me happy. Even if I’m blowing away everything in sight.

Anonymous Coward says:

“make it very difficult, counter-intuitive, and annoying. You know, like Battle Toads, Myst”

What? I loved Battle Toads and Myst, those were excellent games. Sadly, or should I say fortunately. I didn’t finish the first Mass Effect trilogy. ME 1 was great, especially on PC, and I was done with it at ME2.
My sister though said she felt the ending to ME3 was really boring.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not just boring; the ending to ME3 was outright insulting, as no matter which of the three choices you choose, they’re 90% identical and all three end up literally nullifying everything you’ve worked to accomplish over the course of the entire trilogy.

Even if you’ve taken the time and put in the hard work to peacefully resolve both of the central conflicts of the game, (Krogan vs. Salarian and Geth vs. Quarian,) which would have proven that the point being made at the end is invalid, Shepard never has the opportunity to present this line of reasoning. (You know, the sort of thing Paragon Shepard has been doing FOR THREE ENTIRE GAMES NOW?!?)

And then when enough fans complained, they released an updated version where Shepard gets to reject this line of reasoning… for an even stupider and more pointless ending that basically says “screw you, fans, you’ll accept what we’re doing and like it!

Mass Effect 3, more than anything else they do or have done, is the reason why I’ll never buy anything else from EA.

FamilyManFirst says:

Re: Re: ME3 ending

Someday, years from now, one of the main developers of ME3, who by that time will no longer be working for EA or Bioware, will come out and reveal how the ending of ME3 was messed up so badly. I am impatiently waiting for the day.

My guess is sheer arrogance of the lead developer, possibly aggravated by time pressure. However, I could readily be off.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I completely disagree. The ending to the Mass Effect series was pure, unintended genius. The theme of the Mass Effect series suddenly became the illusion of choice and the illusion of free will. The whole game set the player up for the inevitable reality that we all face each and every day: you thought you were in control, but you fucking weren’t.

That’s a beautiful thing and it need not be disavowed just because it was born out of ineptitude….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Battletoads on Genesis was not as insanely difficult, I made it past the second jumping “skidoo” level!

And we kept re-renting it, Nes or Genesis, hoping it was just us that needed practice like the Ninja Turtles 2 and 3 games on NES (the first one is a good example of ridiculously difficult where everybody abandons too), but nope.

It was a lot like Double Dragon 3 where there was no option to make it so you couldn’t hit the other player.

Anonymous Coward says:

Humans are ambitious in general. I think that’s what makes us like games, the achievement – reward based system. But there are a lot of systems like that in real life, e.g. school or our jobs. If you fail, are made to do frustratingly stupid tasks or are denied the reward you think you deserve, won’t that make you angry and, in some cases, agresive? (Yes, if you aren’t capable of dealing with it)

Lets ban life.

Anonymous Coward says:

The two games I’m currently actively playing, FTL: Faster Than Light and Warframe kind of illustrate this point rather well. In Warframe, you play as a metal space ninja with guns shooting, blasting, using fancy powers to shred dozens of human/clone/robot/mutant enemies into bloody messes. A recently revamped melee system adds a lot of slashing to that mix. Playing that game leads to a somewhat calming work-with-teammates-to-protect-objective mindset.

FTL, on the other hand, is a roguelike space-themed game where how well you do in the game depends largely on how much the RNG hates you. whether it’s several solar flare hazards in a row when playing as a ship with no defenses against it, or a boss ship that blatantly breaks all the rules established during the previous gameplay, This is the one of the two that has me cursing it out, even though there’s only basic explosions and not a drop of blood to be found.

On the subject of MYST, though… one of my all-time favorite game series.

Mikael (profile) says:

While this is pretty much true (I have gotten pretty pissed at horrible games myself) the same can be said about anything in life really.

Anything meant to “calm” someone down will have the exact opposite effect if implemented poorly. Think of getting a massage as an example. Should be a relaxing experience, but if they are playing obnoxious music in the background, constantly talk about their boring lives during the massage, and aren’t really good at the massage anyway you are going to leave there pretty upset.

The bigger issue then becomes what you do next. Do you resolve to stay pissed off, or do you find something else to do that you know will calm you down?

I have games I keep on hand just for when I play something shitty that pisses me off. I switch to something I know is a good game that will help change my mood to a more positive one.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Ah so its the difference between playing Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 (PC or Console)

On one I have fun and enjoy the game (with all its bugs).. on the other My urge to discombobulate fuckheads in EA who allowed a game to be released before it was ready becomes immensely strong and hard to control.

Luckily I am now playing Dark Souls 2 where the urge to rage quit is strong mainly because I suck at everything except dying.. that Im good at.. oh yes indeedy I am good at dying in DS2.

PS: I enjoyed the ending(s) of ME3 and like Timothy saw the subtle dig at ‘reality v. happy rainbow endings’ that shows no matter what you do sometimes life sucks and you do what is needed not what you want.

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