Do video games impact our real life behaviour?

Published date: 09 April 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


DOES Grand Theft Auto turn players into sexist road-rage maniacs, or Call of Duty turn gamers into blood-thirsty fiends?

It has long been debated if playing violent computer games makes the player more violent in real life.

It has been the stuff of thousands of speculative headlines, stretching from the early days of gaming, when games like Death Race were pilloried on release in 1976 for allowing players to splat screaming characters.

Things have not changed much on that score. There was a collective harrumphing from certain sections of the Press last year when Grand Theft Auto V was released, with some arguing it degraded women and encouraged violence.

The jury is still out on what impact long-term extensive video game play has on young minds in particular, but a new study released this week suggests something else is much more likely to get us riled.

In the short term, it makes little difference whether people are dismembering zombies or growing plants on a digital farm, brain-boxes behind the research said.

According to researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, players are most likely to get aggressive in real life when they can’t play the game properly – whether that’s because the game has glitches or confusing controls, or simply because they can’t get the hang of it.

To test the theory, I picked up an old-ish game called Bioshock II, where you go around shooting, freezing and immolating mutated substance-addicts.

You can also hit them with a massive drill.

After several hours of playing, I haven’t wanted to go outside and stab anyone with a drill after playing. But thinking back, a glitch on an otherwise benign Pokémon game once saw me throw a Game Boy through a closed door. And it turns out, this is not all that unusual.

Greame Settle, 27, of Mold, plays FIFA football games, taking the helm during digital matches.

He said: “I do get frustrated, every time the other team scores a goal. I once put my Xbox controller through my TV. Seriously.

“I had to wait three months until I could afford a new one.”

Katy Green, 29, of Saltney, has actually banned herself from one frustrating game, Flappy Bird, where you have to dodge obstacles using simple controls but rapid reflexes.

She said: “I installed Flappy Bird and then deleted it after about 10 minutes because I’d already snapped at my daughter for talking to me and – in my mind – making me crash.

“I also almost threw my phone. I then realised I was being a total idiot and deleted the game.  

“I think shooting and gory games are actually a bit of a stress reliever.”

Even the older and supposedly wiser game-players are not immune from outbursts.

I discovered Leader features editor Jo Shone is a bit of a closet gamer, recalling playing Altered Beast in the late 1980s and Ghostbusters.

Now she’s part of the ‘geeky greys’ taking on the world in crossword computer games.

She said: “There’s nothing like the feeling of submitting your score and seeing your gaming alter ego name in the number one spot next to a little fluttering Union Jack flag.

“It doesn’t last long. While you’re asleep half the world wakes up and by breakfast time more often or not you’ve been toppled.

“As for gaming rage, that only comes to the surface when you’ve racked up your best score ever.

“But for some reason that magic number refuses to register.

“I felt like hurling the PC out of the window a couple of times when that happened, but consoled and quietened my anger with a chocolate bar from the fridge instead.”

Katy Dodd, 24, of Broughton, was a professional gamer, testing new products and previously working for a GAME store. She is suspicious of the old “violent video games make violent people” idea.

She said: “I think if you are the sort of person who is inclined to behave that way then a violent video game might influence you, but not the average person.

“As a beta-tester, I did come across a lot of glitches, and sometimes they make it through to the final game.

“I’ve been playing Call of Duty (a warzone simulation game), and I wouldn’t go out and shoot someone because that’s what you do in the game. That said, being trapped in a glitch, having your character unable to move and being gunned down is very annoying.”

Speaking to the BBC, a co-author of the latest study, Prof Richard Ryan, from the US-based University of Rochester, said: “If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this not the violent content that seems to drive feelings of aggression.”

In other words, people react the same way to a digital frustration to any other frustration in real-life – who hasn’t cursed a slow internet connection with the same ferocity they have an inconsiderate driver or seethed at poor customer service?

That is not to say computer games are entirely off the hook.

Earlier studies suggest young teens may struggle to develop empathy if they spend too much time gaming, rather than interacting face-to-face.

Prof Ryan added: “The (current) study is not saying violent content doesn’t affect gamers, but our research suggests people are not drawn to playing violent games in order to feel aggressive.”

So, while game-players probably don’t have to worry too much about being driven to murder, discretion is advised.

Ms Dodd said: “Age ratings are there for a reason. It might be difficult for parents who are being nagged by their child to buy them a certain game, especially if they know the child is just going to go over to a friend’s and play it.

“But on occasion, when I was working in the game shop, parents would bring me an 18+ game and say ‘does this really have all that much violence in it?’ and I’ve had to be honest and say ‘yes’.

“It’s probably a good idea to see what they are playing, but that will become increasingly difficult now people are able to download games directly.”

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