Violence Not What Attracts Video Gamers, Says Study

  by  |  January 16th, 2009  |  Published in All, Brain & Psychology, Featured, Weird Science

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Just a few days after a U.S. congressman proposed legislation that would brand violent video games with a health warning, a new study, released today, shows that violence is not what attracts players. The research could be reassuring news for parents.

[If you cannot see the flash video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]

Interviewees: Richard Ryan and Andrew Przybylski, University of Rochester,
Craig Anderson, Iowa State University
Produced by Joyce Gramza — Edited by James Eagan
and Chris Bergendorff Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc.

By Heather Mayer

Thrills, not kills

Facing an enemy soldier, you aim your gun and ask if he has any last words. Then you fire shot after shot until blood pours out and he crumbles to the ground. You collect his weapon and cautiously carry on. You only need to kill two more enemy combatants before making it to the next level. That’s right — it’s a video game.

Violent video games have been in the thick of controversy for what seems like an eternity. But there’s reassuring news for parents. A new study released today suggests that violence is not what attracts gamers.

In fact, the study found that even individuals characterized as "aggressive" by psychological surveys, who said they preferred violent games, got no more enjoyment out of playing violent titles than most gamers.

Also on ScienCentral

“People like videogames because they (the games) introduce them to worlds where they can feel freedom and where they can feel a sense of accomplishment and competence,” says researcher Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester. “It just so happens that a lot of games that have those elements are also combat or war type games and include violence.”

The "elements" he refers to include setting goals, experiencing challenges, creating strategies and having control over a player’s actions.

Tag! You’re… Dead?

Previous studies have compared completely different types of video games (e.g.: a violent vs. a non-violent game), which meant that other factors in the games besides violence may have influenced results. So Ryan and lead author Andrew Przybylski altered the same violent video game to change solely the level of violence.

“What we really tried to do was make sure that any differences we detected in the games would be due to the difference in the violence content, not the interest value of the narrative or story that was behind it,” Ryan explains.

To do this, the researchers changed a violent video game from a killing game to a game of tag — allowing players to still have a sense of achievement without the graphic gore or violent premise. Instead of falling on the ground, bleeding, once the enemy was tagged, he evaporates, suggesting he is teleporting back to his home base, explains Ryan.

Using low and high levels of violence, the researchers discovered that video game users did not find more enjoyment with games that were more violent.

“There was no value added for violent content,” Ryan says. “Players did not enjoy games more because of the violent content; they enjoyed them because of the attributes… It’s the thrill of victory that’s thrilling, not the production of blood and gore,” he says.

The Rochester researchers, along with collaborator Scott Rigby
of virtual environment research firm Immersyve, published these findings in "Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin."

Parents, Rest Easy; Manufacturers, Listen Up

Although the study looked only at volunteers age 18 and up, the researchers think their findings are encouraging for parents who worry about their children’s interest in violent video games.

“You can pretty much rest assured that your kid’s not into it because of the violence, per se, but rather because there’s some fun into that game,” Ryan says.
And, according to Iowa State University psychologist Craig Anderson, who was not involved in these studies, this research opens the window of opportunity for the video game manufacturers.

“(The research) illustrates a number of findings that should be very important to game developers,” says. Anderson, whose own research has found that video game violence can be a risk factor for aggression. “The video game industry is really missing a rather large segment of their potential market by focusing so heavily on violent games.… One could expand the game market by spending some more time and effort creating nonviolent games that also have these features that promote feelings of competence and autonomy.”

Those features, Anderson says, make video games great teaching tools.

Aggression Still Under Investigation

Even among subjects who scored high on traits that psychologists use to determine aggressiveness, increased violence did not correlate with more enjoyment playing video games, Ryan says.

“People who were high in aggressiveness, who just in general as a trait tend to be hostile or easy to anger, they had a preference for games and titles with more violence in them, but when they were actually playing those games, they did not enjoy them more than they enjoyed nonviolent games,” Ryan says.

Because the subjects varied in age, the researchers say they can’t generalize their findings to gamers under 18 years old. And the research didn’t look at whether video games make people more aggressive, Ryan explains. It only studied whether the aggression and violence in video games is part of the attraction.

Anderson still advises parents to take steps to monitor their children’s media intake.

“Parents need to take charge of their children’s media diet in the same way they take charge of their child’s food diet,” he says. “You don’t serve kids, or even teenagers, soda and chips for breakfast… but most people don’t seem to understand that the media diet plays a big role in who their child or adolescent eventually becomes.”

This research was published in "Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin," January 16, 2009, and funded by the University of Rochester Department of Psychology.

Elsewhere on the Web:

Congressman Wants Health Warnings On Violent Games—San Jose Mercury News

APA Statement calling for reduction in violent media, 2005

Video game ratings—ESRB

Congress Ponders Videogame Warning Labels

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  1. Raymond says:

    January 16th, 2009 at 3:57 pm (#)

    Been saying this for years.

  2. patrick says:

    January 17th, 2009 at 3:12 pm (#)

    kiero descargar el juego por computador

  3. The motivating role of violence in video games (Przybylski et al., 2009) « VG Researcher - Psychology says:

    January 17th, 2009 at 6:30 pm (#)

    [...] Here are some news links: newslite, The Australian, University of Rochester.  Here’s a video interview from ScienCentral: [...]

  4. katharine says:

    January 18th, 2009 at 5:03 am (#)

    Hey, can you give those links or addresses again, esp. the video interview- they did not come through. Also, do you have a link to the primary study itself?

  5. BILHEM says:

    January 29th, 2009 at 5:29 am (#)

  6. Exozito says:

    February 4th, 2009 at 9:36 am (#)

    Finally, some proof to show my parents

  7. t5 says:

    February 8th, 2009 at 2:06 pm (#)

    as a lifetime gamer and lifetime pacifist, i can attest to this. i love violent videogames, not because the violence but because they are a blast to play.

  8. Darkr0nin says:

    February 8th, 2009 at 6:11 pm (#)

    I’ve been trying to say this for ages. Games like Sim City, Spore, and Portal are immensely popular, yet contain very little violence. It’s not blood and gore, it’s reaching goals and achievements, which is why war games like Halo and CoD4 are so liked among most gamers.

    People tend to be really worried about games because of the spin the media constantly plays on it. Who cares if the Virginia tech guy had a few war games? He had a long and thorough history of severe psychological illness.

  9. Tim says:

    February 9th, 2009 at 12:47 am (#)

    I play a lot of different games and I agree that the accomplishment and winning drive gamers. But o say violence doesn’t attract an audience? That’s crazy. Even in games where violence isn’t the focus, when I violent scene occurs it drives the players heart rate up and and creates a level of emotional attachment that is unmistakable.
    I don’t think violence in video games can be linked to violent tendencies in the real world. But people enjoy violence in video games because it is violent. Because they fear for themselves and get a scene of satisfaction when they take out an opponent before they get them.

    That being said I’m going to play some TF2 just to see hear the screams and see the blood.

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    This is so true my friends have killzone 2 and they cant wait until they release new ranks so they can rank up more its not all about blowing people away its about ranking up as well

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