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So, the American Psychological Association, after quite a bit of criticism, even from within the ranks of Psychology experts, has reaffirmed their stance that video games and aggression are linked, at least as a correlation. Credit where it’s due, they did finally clarify that there is not enough evidence to claim gaming and actual, physical violence is related. It was nice to finally hear that, and hopefully there is some kind of discussion about the fact that the APA finally confirmed that no, there is no evidence to conclude games have any effect on crime. There won’t be, most likely, but that is beside the point. The point is, the proposal, while marred with issues, does at least make an effort to explain itself. They discuss at some length the factors that have not been studied. Among them is even discussion of the different aspects of games themselves, such as the inclusion of narrative stories, a rarity.

Unfortunately they still fall short.

I’ve written about this before. A couple of times even. Critics and researchers, who are the most cynical about gaming, really can’t seem to grasp exactly what makes gaming unique. They gather “this violence is causing the aggression” because they relentlessly compare it to films and only take the face content, not the actual experience of playing a game. Rather than drone on about the rhetoric though, here is something more concrete. To any researchers or members of the APA who may stumble across this, consider perhaps an aspect you are missing. Not just the competitive aspect but also the sheer difficulty invested in video games. Change how you view games.

For an example, watch Let’s Players. This is a serious suggestion; researchers, if you intend to study video games, the easiest way to get a better understanding of the medium is to study gamers in their natural habitat. Let’s Players are unequivocally gamers—their rise in popularity is largely because of how organic and believable their content is. And especially facecam Let’s Players are an excellent way to truly observe behavior. This is not a scientific study, but it is a good way to get more context. Watch a Let’s Player play a horror game. Then a “rage game.” Then a standard, AAA “violent” title. Watch the reaction and you will likely find that where they are more aggressive is not when they are playing the violent title or the horror title, it is the aptly named “rage game.” I submit that perhaps it is not that violent video games increase aggression, but rather than violent video games come with them a level of difficulty and frustration that induces aggression.

Here is a structure for a study: have four groups of people each playing a different type of game. One plays the latest AAA title, which likely features a good amount of fictional violence. Or if you want, just use Grand Theft Auto V. Then pick a AAA game such as an RPG, which likely still depicted violence, but less realistic and more fantastical elements. Then pick a rage game. I recommend I Am Bread. Finally, pick a walking simulator. I can’t recall any walking simulators that depict massive amounts of violence, but I’m sure there is one or if not, that is a rapidly growing genre. Make sure you’re keeping in mind that these are very different types of games in every way, but where they differ most is in their depth and their difficulty. Grand Theft Auto V has a layer of difficulty but it is beatable and not overly frustrating. I Am Bread is designed to be frustrating. Any walking simulator holds no difficulty at all. If you want, include a control group who instead watches a film.

Next, observe. Do not superficially watch your participants play a game and then hand them a survey. Actually observe their behavior while playing the game and after. See gamers, when they are aggressive, are not shy about it. This is because, I hypothesize, the aggression stems not from watching violent images but from sheer agitation at playing a difficult segment. Think critically: most violent video games are also fairly challenging, and thus it stands to reason a player may be more aggressive afterwards because of the difficulty, not necessarily the violence. For a smaller comparison, take two players engaged in Grand Theft Auto V. Have one take down a swarm of police cars with a pistol. Give the other a rocket launcher. See which one is more aggressive afterwards.

This is not a hunch. Studies already exist that support this conclusion, though they tend not to be emphasized by the APA or the media. And sheer, basic observation, as someone actually engaged in gaming culture, can lead a person to this conclusion. And it is clear that the conclusions that scientists have been coming to stem from a severe lack of understanding of who gamers are and the nature of games. Don’t treat video games like an independent medium—not when you are studying gamers themselves. Treat it as you would any other culture: examine it fairly, put yourself into it (at least hypothetically).

Fortunately, gamers are not the only ones skeptical of how video game culture is currently researched. Even academics have branched out to denounce the constant reptition of the idea that violence in video games cause aggression. In time, hopefully, researchers will finally give gaming the respect it deserves.

Kindra Pring

Staff Writer

Teacher's aid by day. Gamer by night. And by day, because I play my DS on my lunch break. Ask me about how bad my aim is.

  • braneman

    Are we still on this tenuous link here between violence and gaming? Do these people have so little time as to try and make up links between things instead of looking at things that are clearly linked?

    I mean there have been sports riots practically yearly in the US since 1989(not every year but sometimes multiple in the same year so it evens out). That would be immensely more helpful to look into that rather than trying to forge a link between gaming and violence through an uphill battle and without facts on your side.

  • wombat

    So many studies have proven that there’s no link between video game violence and real world violence, with zero evidence to the contrary, so I don’t know why this somehow remains an issue.

    How intellectually dishonest do you have to be to keep pushing the thought that game violence leads to real violence when there’s no evidence supporting that?

  • Smoky_the_Bear

    That’s the problem, there are certain cirlces of gaming media that are agenda driven to prove that gaming is bad so they can influence the changes they want to see (i.e. helping to give more prominence to their artsy dev friends), mostly because they got into gaming journalism not because they like gaming but because they wanted to be a journalist, took a job and this is what they got stuck with.

    These people are hellbent on changing gaming and they don’t mind lying to do it. So they will highlight any study such as this which portrays gaming negatively whilst conveniently ignoring the dozens of others that show the exact opposite. Just more biased, corrupt journalism tbh. Of course according to them, me saying this means I now have a deep seated hatred of women for some reason.

  • Smoky_the_Bear

    Well the study is about the link between aggression and video games. To me it is intellectually dishonest for one simple reason. They could probably do the study about most things people do and find the same link. There is no point of comparison, just “gaming increases aggression”. So does driving a car, so does working almost any job, so does burning your toast, certainly playing sports increases aggression a ton more than playing games, life in general increases aggression. Therefore this study is a meaningless hit piece designed to libel gaming with meaningless “facts”. Not worth the paper it is printed on tbh.

  • Jonathan Roberts

    you know Kite Tales had this figured out ages ago, maybe the APA should give her a job.

  • mbits

    I’m sorry, but why is this relevant? We don’t censor or ban books, music, movies, comics, or any other form of expression and even in some fantasy world where there was a correlation between playing a game and real world violence, it would be fucking irrelevant, because we’re not going to ban video games just because a fraction of a percent of toddlers who are playing games when they should be out riding a tricycle have a 20% increase in how physically active they are or the language they use.

    How about we stop giving credibility to this bullshit by saying “let’s have a dialog” and we just acknowledge that it’s fucking retarded and move on while these trogs continue to dredge up arguments of the 1990s… and 80s… and 70s… and 60s… and 50s… and 40s… and 30s… and 20s…

  • Erthwjim

    I think this study was useful and a different approach:

    They found the older the person doing the study the more likely they would find a link to violence. Maybe the APA is just not run by enough younger psychologists yet.

  • Murk

    Yeah but how reliable is lets play footage really when its intended for an audience? Emotions are often exaggerated for viewer pleasure.