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.