Since the arrival of video games, psychologists have studied the effects of them on those that play them. The most important, or rather the most glamourized aspect exposed to the mass populace, is how violent video games—such as the Doom series—affect the outward, explicit behavior of the gamers. As most people know, the consensus given by psychologists in the preliminary tests was that violent video games increases aggressiveness compared to those who play a nonviolent video game. But now in recent studies, psychologists are taking into account the counterclaims and inconsistencies—such as when the experimenters ignored the previous implicit behavior of the participant, external factors, and the reason for playing the game—voiced at the original conclusion that violent video games increase aggressiveness. In these more recent studies, the psychologists are beginning to reevaluate their previous statements about video game violence and aggression and start to shed a new light for the people. The problem though arises when people are exposed to the bias of the news on television that wants to create a story that they believe the viewers want to see, holding on to the long held tradition now that violent video games cause aggression, and are not exposed to these newer studies that challenge the older ones.
In an article in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Markus Denzler, Michael Häfner, and Jens Förster, the effects of external goals for playing a violent video game were studied. The three psychologists look to whether having a goal fulfilled by playing the violent game, such as the venting of anger, would “reduce relative accessibility of aggression” (Denzler, Häfner & Förster). The three conducted multiple studies in which they tested the effect of venting anger while playing a violent game. In Study 2, participants were asked to imagine their partner cheating on them with their best friend as they read that exact scenario in a story they were given. After spending an amount of time reading the scenario and adjusting themselves with their feelings, the participants were then asked to rate their mood on a scale from one to seven along with answer other mood related questions. Then they were shown a string of words—7 aggressive, 7 nonaggressive, and 14 jumbles of letters that were not words. Their reaction times were measured in how long it took to identify each type of word. The story about the cheating partner and best friend continued on to where the protagonist, the participant, went home to play a violent game called Battlefield 1942. In one group, a goal was given to the protagonist, and the goal was to vent his/her anger. In the other group, the protagonist played the game just to play the game. They then answered mood questions that were asked after reading the scenario for the first time (Denzler). In the study, the psychologists found that having a goal to fulfill while playing such a game, a reason behind it, actually “inhibited the accessibility of aggressive constructs” (Denzler). To be able to have aggression actually reduced is a new idea, seeing as this article was published in 2011, and it is mostly ignored by the modern parents of the age. These internal, personal reasons for playing the game have such a great impact on how the adult or child views the game and how it would affect them. But due to an individual’s resistance to change, as noted in psychology, these reasons that the adults or children play the games are largely ignored therefore letting the idea of increased aggressiveness persist.
External factors play such a big part of a gamer’s personal repertoire of games. Being a gamer myself, I can personally say that what I want to do in the game and how I want to play it directly affects which games I play. So this goal related study would be paramount in explaining how external factors affect gamers. Some might challenge this though with the fact that the modern population does not play games for a goal or such, but they play them to just have fun. Speaking from a personal perspective along with all other gamers I know personally and from my friends’ friends whom I know somewhat, the purpose of playing game, the goal itself, is why we play them; the goal is our fun and entertainment. Some people argue though that some games do not have a plot and are senseless violence. One such game that I know is called Painkiller. The protagonist is an assassin from God that goes around destroying all demons from hell in the most grotesque and violent way possible. There literally is no plot to the game. This would seem like a prime example to refute this idea with, but the problem is that there is always a goal in a video game. Always. It may not be apparent to those that only study them or don’t play them, but it is always there. In Painkiller, the goal is to get the newest weapon, collect the all the orbs, and reach a full completion of the game. Sure, one of the goals is to make more violence but, in accordance with the aforementioned study, the completion of such a goal, no matter what it is, reduces aggression. Therefore it can be inferred that the external factors, such as goals, have no effect on increasing aggression but at times can even reduce aggression.
It is also noted in the aforementioned studies, that when the person did not complete the goal, for example completely venting their anger, aggressiveness did increase, which was consequently attributed to the violent game. This is a prime example of when people are resistant to the held belief that they do cause aggressiveness if played idly. Taking into the account that the person did not fulfill their desired goal, it is quite reasonable for them to be upset and throw the controller across the room. Compare this to a student who worked for hours studying for an exam, similar to playing for hours to get a certain achievement, and then they get their final grade that showed they failed the exam, similar to reaching the end of the level again and not getting the achievement. This misattribution is common among all those with the previous held beliefs, making psychologists extremely susceptible to their own fallacies. The experimenters failed to see that the anger and aggressive behavior stemmed from an external factor called failure. If the professionals fall victim to misattributing factors to their own biases, then the common people who mostly have no training in recognizing attribution factors would also fall victim to misattributing, which is now leading to the widespread idea of increased aggression without any challenges against them. This misattribution is part of the resistance to change mentioned before. If people were completely willing to accept the fact that they were wrong and start with a clean slate in light of newer studies, the population would be able to understand the newer ways of looking at games.
The media also plays a significant role in the root problem of the correlation between violent video games and aggression. In such an example by the States News Service in an article following the Supreme Court overturning the law in California that bans the selling of violent video games to minors (Menon). The author, Divya Menon, mentions how psychology is in support of the ban due to the effects on children and people in general. Menon then goes on to explain how one psychologist refutes this idea. The problem is that Menon gives two full paragraphs for psychologists in support of the ban and one saying that it has no adverse effect and can in fact be advantageous in things such as “better stress management” (Menon). This is an example of how media still keeps the tradition of violent games and aggression alive. The two sources greatly overshadow the one man fighting them both off, not to mention the placement of the refuting paragraph. The paragraph that challenges the idea of increased aggression is placed in the middle of the newspaper article, and in psychology it is a noted factor that people tend to remember more the things that are at the beginning and the end rather than in the middle. So if people were to read this article, they would remember the incorrect assumption that violent games cause aggression rather than the one man arguing from the massive shadow that stands over him. This placement may or may not be intentional, and even if it was unintentional, it still shows the bias of the author, supporting the claim that people are resistant to change therefore making them resistant to the idea that violent games do not cause increased aggression.
Another factor that has been ignored in previous studies is the person’s implicit, trait anger that already exists before the study. In a study conducted by Christopher Engelhardt, Bruce Bartholow, and J. Scott Saults at the University of Missouri in 2011, they found that violent video games produce “differential effects on aggressive behavior as a function of individual differences in trait anger” (Engelhardt, Bartholow & Saults). In the study they found that those high in trait anger, or internal, implicit anger, have more of an aggressive reaction than those who have lower trait anger. This study shows how in earlier studies, internal attitudes were not taken in account when analyzing the participants. Therefore it would be safe to infer that the aggressiveness from violent video games that early researchers saw could have come from an anger ready person that would produce aggressiveness.
In an article produced in the University of Heidelburg in Germany studying the effects of implicit aggressiveness with violent video games is also prevalent. This study supports the aggressive construct but in the nature of implicit aggressiveness. The study shows that playing a violent video game decreases the aggressive tendencies in males but increases it in females, yet they still stand by the fact that it is still increasing aggressiveness in both genders if only slightly (Bluemke, Friedrich & Zumbach). They go on to state that implicit aggression is used to determine explicit aggression. The problem with such a thing is that implicit aggression and explicit aggression are loosely correlated, which they even mention in their study by stating “[implicit and explicit aggression] are only weakly […] related” (Bluemke). It’s just another thing that psychologists have ignored and are just now taking it into account, but the damage is already done. It will take a long time to reverse the effects of the large amount of hype the previous studies received.
Despite all the studies that contest the previous studies conducted, the general population still believes that aggressiveness can be a result of playing violent video games, and so parents tend to heavily monitor what their children play on their gaming consoles. Something must be done about this inconsistency with reality. Solutions are presented in various lights, and one by Sahara Bryne gives excellent results. The conclusion that Bryne came to was that if the person is cognitively aware and made to understand the violence in the game and how it might affect you, the increase in aggressiveness becomes nonexistent (Bryne). Bryne also mentions a treatment that involves motivating children to not “encode, store, retrieve, and employ aggressive behaviors” works more than just telling them about the effects of media (Bryne). It is quite a striking study that supports the educational movement—like the studies in Hunter’s Safety, Boating Safety, Firearm Safety, and so on. The goal of the study was to find another way to curb media effects, such as aggressiveness, without resorting to censoring and the like.
To form another solution one can look to Tobias Greitemeyer and Silvia Osswald and their study on prosocial video games and aggressiveness. They inevitably concluded that “playing prosocial video games decreases aggressive responses” (Greitemeyer & Osswald). Then if video game companies were to incorporate prosocial aspects into their violent video games, thereby creating a much better game in a gamer’s opinion, then it would stand to reason that the result would be no increased aggression at all. This is a very viable and easy to do solution. While aforementioned studies have concluded that violent video games do not increase aggressiveness, incorporating prosocial aspects into a game would help the common people become more amiable towards violent video game playing with their children. Including prosocial aspects would be like the placebo effect in medicine. It would actually do nothing for the common gamer, but it would increase the standing, thereby healing the population, of violent video games and their correlation with aggression.
Using the goal study mentioned earlier, video games companies can more clearly define the goals of the game for those who are not experienced with them. In doing so, they would help people understand what the game is about, and then perhaps they may come to understand how having a goal affects the gamer, maybe even using the study mentioned in this essay.
In a book by a Harvard Professor mentioned in an article, he mentions something quite astonishing that would really heavily challenge the violent video game and aggression correlation; that bit information is that “the last few decades have been the most peaceful in human history” (Lowe). Now taking this into account it seems feasibly impossible psychologists to say that violence and aggression is increasing while statistics say that violence is decreasing. This is a contradiction and based on all the aforementioned studies, one is inclined to believe the statistic that violence is decreasing. This decrease shatters the correlation of violent video games and aggression and should help pave the way for a better understanding of the video game media.
With such light focusing on video games lately and how they relate to aggression and violence (school shootings), it is hard to challenge traditional views that have been upheld for quite a while without running into a blockade of angry protestors. It is perhaps one irony that most of those protestors are psychologists falling victim to their own biases and fallacies. The media exposure and traditional views will combat all new studies at each and every corner, despite the previous studies’ ignoring of external factors and implicit factors. But then why should we as a people care about this? Would it not be better to be safe than sorry when it comes to such things? The people of the world must realize that video games are a form of art media, just like movies, that take a lot of time and are a thriving business. If the hammer keeps coming down on video games—since only the violent ones reach the people’s attention and they tend to generalize video games as a whole—the industry will eventually fall. Video games can help. They can educate. They can do so much more than people give them credit, and it really is a shame that the population has such a bad view of them.