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No strong link seen between
violent video games and aggression
Lynn, Humanities Editor
photo to enlarge
by Kwame Ross
new study has found that exposure to violent online
fantasy video games did not cause any substantial
real-world aggression. The results, said Dmitri Williams,
lead author of the study, support the contention of
those who suggest that some violent games do not necessarily
lead to increased real-world aggression. But researchers
concede that other types of games and contexts might
have negative impacts.
— Results from the first long-term study of online videogame playing
may be surprising.
Contrary to popular opinion and most previous research, the new study
found that players’ “robust exposure” to a highly
violent online game did not cause any substantial real-world aggression.
After an average playtime of 56 hours over the course of a month with
“Asheron’s Call 2,” a popular MMRPG, or “massively
multi-layer online role-playing game,” researchers found “no
strong effects associated with aggression caused by this violent game,”
said Dmitri Williams, the lead author of the study.
Players were not statistically different from the non-playing control
group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than they
were before playing, Williams said.
Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared with
the control group, the players neither increased their argumentative
behaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to argue
with their friends and partners.
“I’m not saying some games don’t lead to aggression,
but I am saying the data are not there yet,” Williams said. “Until
we have more long-term studies, I don’t think we should make strong
predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding.”
Williams, a professor of speech
communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
is an expert on the effects of online video-game play. He conducted
the study with Marko Skoric, a lecturer at the School of Communication
and Information at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Their findings appear in the June issue of Communication Monographs
in an article titled “Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression
in an Online Game.”
According to Williams, researchers have suspected a strong linkage between
games and aggression “but, with the exception of relatively short-term
effects on young adults and children, they have yet to demonstrate this
Williams and Skoric undertook the first longitudinal study of a game
to see whether they could determine a link.
Because most video game research has been conducted in the laboratory
or by observation in the field – methods “not representing
the social context of game play” – they had their participants
play the game in normal environments, like home.
The results of the new study, Williams said, support the contention
of those who suggest that some violent games do not necessarily lead
to increased real-world aggression.
But he and Skoric concede that other types of games and contexts might
have negative impacts.
“This game featured fantasy violence, while others featuring outer
space or even everyday urban violence may yield different outcomes.”
Williams and Skoric also concede that because their study didn’t
concentrate solely on younger teenagers, “we cannot say that teenagers
might not experience different effects.”
Still, and interestingly, older players in their study were “perhaps
more strongly influenced by game play and argued with friends more than
their younger counterparts.”
The new study involved two groups of participants: players – a
“treatment” group of 75 people who had no prior MMRPG play
and who played AC2 for the first time; and a control group of 138, who
did not play. The participants were solicited through online message
boards and ranged in age from 14 to 68, the average age being 27.7 years.
Self-reported questionnaires were completed pre- and post-test online
and included a range of demographic, behavioral and personality variables.
Aggression-related beliefs were measured with L.R. Huesmann’s
Normative Beliefs in Aggression (NOBAGS) scale. Aggressive social interactions
were measured with two behavioral questions: in the past month, did
the participant have a serious argument with a friend, and in the same
time period, did they have a serious argument with a spouse, boyfriend
Because of the study’s design, only moderate or large effects
caused by exposure to the game were capable of being detected.
Today, more than 60 percent of Americans play some form of interactive
game on a regular basis, while 32 percent of the game-playing population
is now over 35 years of age.
Fears about the games’ social and health impacts have risen with
these numbers, Williams said, with politicians, pundits and media outlets
fanning some of the flames.
Games are becoming increasingly violent, as shown by content analyses,
Williams said. One reason is that “the first generation of game
players has aged and its tastes and expectations have been more likely
to include mature fair.”
Still, the extent of knowledge about what games do to or for people
is limited, and there is “even less understanding about the range
“If the content, context, and play length have some bearing on
the effects, policy-makers should seek a greater understanding of the
games they are debating. It may be that both the attackers and defenders
of the industry’s products are operating without enough information,
and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely
a more complicated phenomenon.”
Nor do researchers know much about the positive effects of gaming, Williams
“Based on my research, some of the potential gains are in meeting
a lot of new people and crossing social boundaries. That’s important
in a society where we are increasingly insulated from one another.”
Some game researchers believe that video-gaming leads to substantial
gains in learning teamwork, managing groups and most important, Williams
said, problem solving.
“How often can someone direct and coordinate a group of eight
or 40 real people to accomplish a complex task, as they do in these
role-playing games? That’s a real skill.
“Games are about solving problems, and it should tell us something
that kids race home from school where they are often bored to get on
games and solve problems. Clearly we need to capture that lightning
in a bottle.”