Video Game Aggression Brought About By Failure, Not Violence
April 8, 2014

Failure – Not Violence – Brings Out Aggression In Video Gamers

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

It isn’t the violent gameplay in video games such as The Walking Dead, Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft that fosters intense feelings of aggression in video game players – it's the failure that comes with gameplay that leads to hostile behavior. So blasting away at zombies, running over pedestrians in a high speed chase and hacking and slashing to the room of treasure doesn’t create the aggressive feelings; but rather the fact that the zombies weren’t stopped, that the police ended the chase and that the treasure wasn’t reached are what actually brings out the hostile feelings.

That is according to a new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, by researchers from the University of Rochester and the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University.

This is the first reported study to look at the player’s psychological experience with video games instead of focusing solely on its content, and the researchers found that a gamer’s failure to achieve or reach a key objective led to the frustration and aggression. More importantly this could be whether the game even had violent content.

“Any player who has thrown down a remote control after losing an electronic game can relate to the intense feelings or anger failure can cause,” said lead author Andrew Przybylski, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, in a statement.

Przybylski added that such frustration is commonly known among gamers as “rage-quitting.” It is also not unique just to video games said the researchers, and is comparable to similar behavior in sports when players face a bad call.

“When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game; that leads to aggression,” added coauthor Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University of Rochester. “We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone's competencies, they'll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not.”

In their study the researchers considered a variety of aspects of the gaming experience, and tracked which might lead to aggressive feelings. During the study, which included nearly 600 college-aged participants who were tasked with playing a variety of games, the researchers manipulated the interface, controls, and degree of difficulty in custom-designed video games across six lab experiments.

The games included many violent and nonviolent variations and the test subjects were tested for aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Throughout the study researchers found it was not the narrative or imagery of the subject matter, but the lack of mastery of a game’s controls and the degree of difficulty that the test subjects had in completing the game that led to frustration. The researchers found that aggression is a negative side effect of the frustration that players felt while playing the game.

The researchers further surveyed 300 “avid gamers to identify how real world gamers might experience the same phenomena.” When asked about pre- and post-game feelings, gamers reportedly noted that their inability to master a game or its controls did cause feelings of frustration and affected their sense of enjoyment in the experience. With this in mind Ryan noted that many critics of video games might have been premature in their conclusions that violent games do in fact cause aggression.

However, last November another study found that playing violent video games could cause players to exhibit less-control and more unethical behaviors.

“When people play violent video games, they show less self-restraint. They eat more, they cheat more,” said Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology and communication at The Ohio State University.

Earlier this month a University of Missouri study also found that media acceptance of video game violence has increased as video game technology has improved over time.

“Early in the ‘90s, when video games were still a relatively new medium, journalists expressed quite a bit of concern about the level of violence in many of the games,” said Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at the MU School of Journalism. “It is interesting because the simulated violence in these games was so mild relative to modern-day games.”